Gorillas are ground-dwelling, predominantly herbivorous apes that inhabit the forests of central Africa. The eponymous genus Gorilla is divided into two species: the eastern gorillas and the western gorillas (both critically endangered), and either four or five subspecies. They are the largest living primates. The DNA of gorillas is highly similar to that of humans, from 95–99% depending on what is counted, and they are the next closest living relatives to humans after the chimpanzees and bonobos.
Gorillas’ natural habitats cover tropical or subtropical forests in Africa. Although their range covers a small percentage in Africa, gorillas cover a wide range of elevations. The mountain gorilla inhabits the Albertine Rift montane cloud forests of the Virunga Volcanoes, ranging in altitude from 2,200–4,300 metres (7,200–14,100 ft). Lowland gorillas live in dense forests and lowland swamps and marshes as low as sea level, with western lowland gorillas living in Central West African countries and eastern lowland gorillas living in the Democratic Republic of the Congo near its border with Rwanda.
It is no surprise that visiting the mountain gorillas remains the most popular tourist activity in Volcanoes National Park. And since 2006, a total of 56 gorilla tracking permits have been available daily, eight for each of the seven habituated troops. However, it would be reductive to bill volcanoes national park solely as a gorilla tracking destination. A wide variety of other hikes and activities are offered, making it possible to spend several days in the area without running out of things to do. The most popular activity after gorilla tracking is a visit to a habituated troop of the rare golden monkey, Albertine rift endemics whose modern range is more or less restricted to the Virungas. A relatively negligible 1,280 tourists undertook this excursion in 2008, less than one percent of the 17,089 gorilla tracking permits issued in the same year. Fewer still embarked on the more demanding day treks to the Crater Lake on Bisoke peak and Dian Fossey’s grave at Karisoke, while the overnight hike to the summit of Karisimbi attracted a mere 100 takers.
Gorillas and golden monkey’s aside, primates are poorly represented by comparison with most other large forests in Rwanda and Uganda. Little information is available regarding the current status of other large mammals in the mountains, but 70- plus species have been recorded in neighboring Mgahinga National Park, and most probably also occur in the larger Rwanda sector. Elephant and buffalo are still quite common; judging by the amount of spoor encountered on forest trails, but is very timid and infrequently observed. Also present are giant forest hog, bush pig, bush buck, black- fronted duiker, spotted hyena, and several varieties of small predator.
Which country do you recommend for gorilla trekking?
We recommend Rwanda, Uganda for mountain gorillas and Republic of Congo for lowland gorillas. It is possible to see the mountain gorillas in the Democratic Republic of Congo but the on-going instability in the east of country makes it difficult. Recommending a good way to see lowland gorillas was also a challenge until Wilderness Safaris, one of the leading conservation and tour operating companies in Botswana began working in Odzala-Kokoua National Park in the Republic of Congo.
There is a $750 permit fee and a one-day visit is probably good enough, but you have come this far and I would recommend another day as you will not only be able to compare the different gorilla families, but guarantee you will take the perfect photo/video that you may have missed the day before.
Unless you can guarantee that it will not rain when hiking, here is a list that you should bring: Walk able Boots, Gators, Higher quality/thicker hiking pants (stinging nettles everywhere!), rain gears and gloves. There are multiple options to see the various gorilla families and each brings its own experience. Depending upon the shape you are in may greatly effect which family/hike you can visit. Some are affected by the altitude (around 8000 feet high) and tire much easier. Otherwise, the hikes themselves range in distance and difficulty but even the longest hike may only be 2-6 hours uphill one way. The drive to each Gorilla family trailhead may also require a 1-2 hour drive. Porters are also available to help bring your backpack if you prefer
The intimate gorilla experience
This intimate gorilla experience awards you the unforgettable experience of your life by setting off to the park head offices of volcanoes national park in Kinigi while assembling for briefing at 7:30 about the do’s and don’ts when you meet gorillas. This is a standard precaution to protect the health of the mountain gorillas and the visitors. You will also be divided in groups of 8 people depending on your level of fitness.After the briefing and assigning a gorilla group to trek, you will be driven by your driver to the head trail of your gorilla group where the trek will begin. At this point you will descend into the forest with a lead from an experienced local guide who will be in position to answer your entire question as you trek in search for your gorilla family. This gorilla trek can last from 30 minutes to 6 hours hiking through bamboo trees. The length of your trek depends on how far into the forest your gorilla group has moved. Once you meet the gorillas, only one hour is allowed with the gentle species so as not to exhaust them. In this one hour, you are allowed to take pictures, video recording but don’t forget to take time and take in this magical moment.
Once the hour is done, descend back to the head trail where you entered the forest from has you hike back to the head offices for your gorilla trekking certificates.
Part of the fun is that the Gorillas are very active and do move frequently so just when your guide says you are close the gorillas have moved even further up the mountain. The silverback is the center of the troop’s attention, making all the decisions, mediating conflicts, determining the movements of the group, leading the others to feeding sites, and taking responsibility for the safety and well-being of the troop. Younger males subordinate to the silverback, known as Blackbacks, may serve as backup protection. Blackbacks are aged between 8 and 12 years and lack the silver back hair. The bond that a silverback has with his females forms the core of gorilla social life. Bonds between them are maintained by grooming and staying close together.Additionally, the guides carry machetes and will constantly be clearing a new path throughout the hike.