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Gorilla Trekking

It is estimated that there are only 700 mountain gorillas left in the world. More than half of these reside in the East African countries of Uganda and Rwanda. A small number are also found in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Gorilla trekking is a unique once-in-a-lifetime experience, requiring good physical fitness and stamina. The trek encompasses visiting some of the most beautiful volcanoes (Virunga mountains), which cover three countries – Uganda (at Mhaginga), Rwanda and Congo. Visitors also get a chance to do some unique bird watching and visit other wildlife including some of the rare and endangered species such as the golden monkeys and Angolan Colobus monkeys.

While visiting the gorillas in Bwindi you will most probably track the gorillas up and down in a series of hills. Some clients will prefer the more challenging trekking in the rain forest of Bwindi. They don't want to miss the rich experience of a rain forest. Others will prefer the less strenuous experience of the Rwanda gorillas. This doesn't mean that you don't need a good physical condition in Rwanda! It's certainly necessary for both gorilla experiences! We have noted that altitude may cause difficulties to some visitors and during dry season (June-September) gorillas tend to climb higher.

Gorilla trekking is undertaken in small groups (maximum eight persons) with a guide and assistant. After a pre-trek briefing, your guide will encourage you to use all of your senses (smell, hearing, vision) to track these endangered primates. Visitors should be in generally fit physical condition to undertake this kind of trekking. A visit to your GP/family doctor is advisable prior to booking the trek.

For conservation purposes the time spent with the gorillas is limited to one hour. Daily visits have an impact on gorilla activity patterns, and are a source of animal stress – there is therefore strong justification for the one-hour rule. This is adequate time for photography and observing these great primates in their natural habitat.

Gorilla trekking is a unique, thrilling and fulfilling experience - it is a journey leading one to appreciate the hidden treasures of this world, and appreciate the effect of commercialism and global warming on the habitats that remain as home to these “gentle giants”.

If there is one wildlife experience that one needs to undertake in one’s lifetime – this has got to be it!

In return you will be rewarded with a certificate from the National Park – a souvenir of your adventure!

Rwanda or Uganda

Silver Back Gorilla
One of the most frequent questions we get is: Which is the best place to see the mountain Gorillas? Rwanda or Uganda?

Our response is based on the personal situation and motivation of clients – what in particular are visitors keen to see? Are they limited by budget or time constraints? If not then we suggest clients get to experience gorillas in both of these countries. After all the gorillas in Uganda (Bwindi) are very different to the gorillas in Rwanda (Kinigi) and their habitats are totally different. So these are two very different gorilla tracking experiences.

The habitat in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (Uganda) is a dense rain forest (a UNESCO world heritage site) while in Kinigi, Parc National des Volcans (Rwanda) the habitat of the gorillas is part of the Virunga, the famous chain of volcanoes located in Congo, Rwanda and also Uganda (Mgahinga National Park).

Bwindi and the forests on the slopes of The Virunga volcanoes have been separated by a broad strip of cultivation for several hundred years. The gorilla population in Bwindi and the Virunga have not been able to travel between the two areas. Some experts tend even to separate them in two subspecies of mountain gorillas.

Gorilla trekking is unpredictable and it is difficult to foresee how many hours you will hike. In Bwindi ( Uganda) the hiking time are generally much challenging. The terrain is usually more difficult in the rainforest and hiking times are longer because when looking for food, Bwindi gorillas tend to travel longer distances per day. In Rwanda the gorilla trekking is usually easier and not as challenging, except for the challenging Sussa group who are located at the Karisimbi volcano. For shorter gorilla trekking experiences, we would generally recommend visiting Rwanda – the PNV is a short distance from Kigali. Bwindi is further from the nearest city, Kampala, taking a day to get to the base camp/lodge.

Photography

Photographers will also notice the difficulties of taking pictures in a rain forest because there is less natural light penetrating the dense vegetation than in the more open habitat of the Virunga. You will need good equipment and a high-speed film of ASA 600/800 is strongly recommended in Bwindi!

If you have a limited time or you would like to combine a short gorilla trip with another East African Safari we would advise you to travel to Kigali ( Rwanda). You need at least 9 hours to travel from Kampala to Bwindi while out of Kigali your gorilla trek can be organized as a day excursion (about 2 hours from Kigali airport). It's also a lot cheaper!

The Virunga Mountain Gorillas – Rwanda (Kinigi) & Uganda (Mhahinga).

The Virunga Mountains are a chain of volcanoes, along the northern border of Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Uganda. The mountain range is a branch of the Albertine Rift, a part of The Great Rift Valley. They are located between Lake Edward and Lake Kivu.

The mountain range consists of eight major volcanoes. Six of them are dormant, and two are active: Mt Nyiragongo and Mt Nyamuragira both in the Congo. Mt Karisimbi is the highest volcano and the oldest mountain is Mt Sabinyo.

  • Mt Karisimbi (4.705 m), Rwanda
  • Mt Mikeno (4.380 m), DRC
  • Mt Muhavura (4.127 m), Rwanda
  • Mt Bisoke (3.711 m), Rwanda
  • Mt Gahinga (3.474 m), Rwanda
  • Mt Nyiragongo (3.462 m), DRC
  • Mt Sabinyo (3.634 m), Rwanda
  • Mt Nyamulagira (3.063 m), DRC

The Virunga Mountains are home of the critically endangered Mountain Gorilla (gorilla gorilla beringei). The Karisoke Research Center, founded by Diane Fossey to observe gorillas in their native habitat, is located between Mount Karisimbi and Mount Bisoke.

The Virunga Conservation Area consists of 3 national parks: Virunga National Park, DRC, Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, Uganda.

Characteristics of Gorillas

Although their genetic material is identical (gorilla gorilla beringei), they differ when it comes to external characteristics and way of life. The gorillas in Rwanda live at a higher altitude and have longer fur. The shape of the nose and the facial folds are also different. When looking for food, Bwindi gorillas tend to travel longer distances per day.

Calls of the wild

To hear sounds made by the mountain gorillas in the wild, visit the link here. (courtesy of The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund)

gorilla-long


Bwindi Impenetrable National Park



Bwindi Impenetrable National Park

Silver Back Gorilla
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park , is located in South Western Uganda and covers 331 km². It lies at the edge of the great Western Rift Valley (Albertine Rift) and is part of the Kigezi highlands. Located next to the Congo border and only 40 km South East of Lake Edward and not far from Queen Elizabeth National Park (Ishasha sector).

The wide altitude ranges from 1160 m to 2607 m. Bwindi has a unique rich and varied ecosystem and has lowland rainforest and afromontane forest. It's considered as one of the most unique and important forests of Africa. UNESCO declared it as a Natural World Heritage site for Humanity for his many values and because it is vital to the survival of many endangered species. There are about 290 mountain gorillas, living in the medium-altitude forest. Bwindi has over 320 species of trees, 350 bird species, 310 species of butterflies (84% of the country's total) and at least 120 species of mammals including 10 species of primates!

* The mountain gorillas with 4 habituated groups for tourism (Mubare group, 10 gorillas and Habinyanja group, 18 gorillas, Rushegura group, 10 gorillas and Nkuringo, 19 gorillas) are the big attraction but there is a lot more to do and to see in Bwindi's complex ecosystem.
* You have hiking trails in Ruhija and Buhoma. The hiking times of the trails vary from 15 minutes to 6 hours. Due to the confusing topography and sensitive ecology of the forest a Ranger-guide is mandatory. Your guide will take you along river trails with delightful waterfalls, up steep slopes, helping you to penetrate the Impenetrable! Bird-watchers, trekkers, hikers or eco-tourist will love Bwindi!

Mgahinga Gorilla National Park



Mgahinga Gorilla National Park

The Park is located 10 km from Kisoro and bordered to the south by Rwanda and to the west by Congo. Mgahinga Gorilla NP covers the slopes of the three northern Virunga volcanoes: Muhavura (4127m), Gahinga (3474 m) and Sabinyo (3645m). The Park is not far from the " Volcanoes National Park" in Rwanda. You have 6 different vegetation zones adapted to distinct climate: Former farmland, Montane Woodland, Bamboo Zone, Montane Forest Belt, Sub alpine Belt and the Afromontane Belt. Mgahinga Gorilla NP has 79 birds species, 90 species of mammals and about 30 gorillas.

The gorillas are moving freely in the Virunga Mountains (crossing borders) and there is only one gorilla group (Nyakagezi) with 10 family gorillas that is habituated to human presence. On Ugandan territory, the troop will remain several months and gorilla trekking is then possible. Please note that it happened several times that the Nyakagezi group was not in Uganda during a long period of time. (The gorilla permits are refunded if the gorillas are not in the park.) You have 7 hiking trails with hiking times going from 30 minutes to 8 hours. You have free-guided birding along the edge of the Park. Guides are happy to take you out if you book in advance.

* Highlights: The main attraction of both Parks is Gorilla trekking, but you have also excellent birding and hiking opportunities through several trails.
* Distance (travelling time): 9h00 from Kampala - 4h00 from Lake Bunyonyi - 6h30 from Lake Mburo NP. Bwindi Impenetrable NP is only 3h00 from Ishasha (QENP)
* Weather conditions: You are in the mountains and rainforest. Expect cool nights and rain.

It contains a permanent exhibition of the Rwandan genocide and an exhibition of other genocides around the world. The Aegis Trust actively seeks the prevention of Genocide worldwide. The Centre includes three permanent exhibitions, the largest of which documents the genocide in 1994. There is also a children’s memorial, and an exhibition on the history of genocidal violence around the world. The Education Centre, Memorial Gardens and National Documentation Centre of the Genocide all contribute to a meaningful tribute to those who perished, and form a powerful educational tool for the next generation. In 2000, the Kigali City Council began to construct the shell of a building, which was eventually to become the Memorial Centre.

Aegis was invited to turn the aspiration for a centre into a reality. The Aegis Trust then began to collect data from across the world to create the three graphical exhibits. The text for all three exhibitions was printed in three languages, designed in the UK at the Aegis head office by their design team, and shipped to Rwanda to be installed.

The Kigali Memorial Centre at Gisozi was opened on the 10th Anniversary of the Rwandan Genocide, in April 2004. The Centre in Kigali was created by a joint partnership of the Kigali City Council and the UK-based Aegis Trust. The creation of the Kigali Memorial Centre was funded by a number of donors worldwide. The Kigali Memorial Centre is an international centre. It deals with a topic of international importance, with far-reaching significance, and is designed to engage and challenge an international visitor base. The response from genocide survivors to the creation of the Centre was unpredicted. In the first week, over 1,500 survivors visited each day. In the first three months of the Centre's opening, around 60,000 people from a variety of backgrounds visited it. Over 7,000 of these visitors were from the International Community.


Dian Fossey

Silver Back Gorilla
Dian Fossey was born in San Francisco, California in 1932. Through friends, Dian Fossey became interested in Africa and made a six-week trip to East Africa in 1963. She met Dr. Louis Leakey at Olduvai Gorge, and at this meeting was inspired enough to begin what was to become her lifelong research on the mountain gorillas.

By 1966 Fossey had persuaded Dr. Leakey to let her carry out research on the mountain gorillas, and gained support from the National Geographic Society. She began her field study at Kabara, in the Democratic Republic of Congo (then Zaire), but by 1967, political upheaval forced her to move to Rwanda. She set up camp in an area between Mt. Bisoke and Mt. Karisimbi, in the Volcanoes National Park, and named her camp “Karisoke,” merging the names of the two volcanoes. Her original objectives were to apply field primatology methods to the study of gorillas in order to understand their ecology, demography, and social organization. But, to achieve this, she had to be able to recognize individuals, which required the gorillas to be habituated (to get used to the presence of humans). By imitating gorilla behaviours and vocalizations, Fossey began to gain the gorillas’ trust, and gradually the gorillas accepted her. In 1970, her efforts were finally rewarded when Peanuts, an adult male gorilla, touched her hand. This was the first friendly gorilla to human contact ever recorded.

She was able to sit amongst them and play with them and their young. She became very attached to a particular young gorilla that she named Digit. She was able to watch him grow and he was very fond of her. Fossey was able to learn a great deal about mountain gorillas (gorilla gorilla beringei) during her stay there. We now know much more about gorilla's behaviour and their relationship to humans as a result of her work.

A few years later, Dian Fossey's favourite gorilla, Digit, was killed by poachers. In response to this, she started a campaign against gorilla poaching. National Geographic published an article about Fossey, and her work with the gorillas. The mention of Digit and the poaching problem in the article caused a large number of donations from readers. With this money, she established the Digit Fund and dedicated her life to saving the gorillas. Fossey went back to the United States and got her Ph.D. at Cambridge University. In 1980, she accepted a job at Cornell University and started writing her book Gorillas in the Mist, which was eventually made into a movie. After finishing the book, she returned to Karisoke to continue her work with the gorillas.

On December 26, 1985, Dian Fossey was found murdered in her cabin. Her death is still unsolved. Today, her Gorilla Fund is continuing to support the ongoing efforts. There is still a team of researchers in Rwanda tying to protect the gorilla population. Fossey's work has raised the world's awareness to the dangers faced by the mountain gorilla. Mountain gorillas are now protected by the government of Rwanda and by other international organizations. The last entry in her diary reads: "When you realize the value of all life, you dwell less on what is past and concentrate on the preservation of the future."

In 1988 the Life and work of Dian Fossey was portrayed in the major motion picture Gorillas in the Mist, starring Sigourney Weaver. Ms. Weaver was so moved by her experience with the gorillas while filming that she became a supporter of the DFGF. Today Sigourney Weaver is DFGFI's Honorary Chairperson

Source of information : Collins Guide to African Wildlife and African Wildlife Foundation Website; Magic Safaris Ltd.
The Dian Fossey Memorial Fund