Gorilla Habituation in Uganda : Uganda was the first country to start gorilla trekking in 1991. Uganda has half of the remaining population of mountain gorillas. The first gorilla groups to be habituated in Uganda were Mubare, Kaguliro and Katendegyere. However, the Katendegyere group disintegrated in 1998. From 11 members, they remained 3 as others crossed to the Democratic Republic of Congo. As time went on, more gorilla groups were habituated due to greater interest in gorilla trekking from international travelers. As we write this, Bwindi Impenetrable National park has 17 habituated gorilla families. It is the national park with the highest number of habituated gorilla groups in the world regardless of species.
Because of the many wild gorilla groups still available in the park, the Uganda Wildlife Authority realized that it could introduce the gorilla habituation experience to tourists who are interested in learning more about mountain gorillas – especially after taking part in standard gorilla trekking. During the gorilla habituation experience, tourists get to see what primatologists and researchers go through in order to habituate the primates. Unlike gorilla trekking, gorilla habituation experience involves observing the primates for 4 hours compared to the 1 hour allocated to standard gorilla trekkers. There are two gorilla families open for the gorilla habituation experience in Bwindi. These gorilla groups are all found in the Rushaga sector of Bwindi. They are known as the Bikyingi and Bushaho group. Permits for a 3 Days Gorilla Habituation experience cost $1500 per person and only 4 people may track each of the groups in a day.
What is gorilla habituation experience like?
After a traveler has acquired a gorilla habituation permit directly from the Uganda Wildlife Authority or through a local tour operator, he/she travels to Rushaga sector where the two gorilla families are located. Briefing for gorilla habituation experience starts very early in the morning and involves introduction to the research team, an overview of Bwindi forest and the gorilla groups. During the briefing, participants get to know about the gorilla trekking rules and what to expect and what to pack.
On completion of the briefing, travelers are allocated one of the gorilla groups and a team of researchers to lead them to the forest. The team also includes armed Park Rangers and trackers who know where to find the family. Tracking takes between 1 to 2 hours before finding the group. Gorilla habituation experience is all about following the primates to learn about what they do in a normal day. You will know what they do, when they wake up, how they feed, when they feed, what they feed on, their resting time and how they make nests. You will also learn the behavior of the different individuals in the group, the hierarchy and the role of the dominant silverback.
The researchers and park rangers will share a lot of information about the primates and what is being done to protect them in the world. This is where you will get to know about the key players in gorilla conservation such as the Dian Fossey Fund, the Gorilla Doctors and World Wide Fund for Nature. Bwindi Impenetrable forest is not just about gorillas. There is a lot to learn and see in the Park during the gorilla habituation experience. Watch out for smaller primates, chimpanzees (if you are lucky), birds, insects and reptiles like chameleons. Bwindi is also home to forest mammals and other amazing creatures.
The packing list for gorilla habituation experience.
One will have a more comfortable experience if they pack a rain jacket and a hat/cap. It is also important to acquire a walking stick, proper hiking boots, long clothes to protect against thorns and sharp tree branches. Other important things to consider packing are an insect repellent, lunch, drinking water and energy drinks. You cannot forget to move with a good camera for photography and filming.
When is the best time for gorilla habituation experience?
Gorilla habituation experience is carried out throughout the year in Bwindi Impenetrable National park. Some people believe that the activity is best done in the dry season (December to the middle of March and June to October). The dry season is preferred for the activity because the forest trails are dry and the sky is bright hence allowing for proper visibility or photography. The wet season is also excellent because the primates have a lot to eat and they tend not to move too far away into the forest. It is also said that the primates look healthier and more beautiful during the wet season because there is plenty to eat. However, forest trails are slippery and it could rain for much of the day on some days. However, given that few permits are issued out for the gorilla habituation experience, we advise that one considers traveling during the low/wet season.