17 Reasons why mountain gorillas can charge during gorilla trekking
Have you ever asked yourself why mountain gorillas can charge at you during gorilla trekking? Here are 17 reasons why and how to avoid such incidents.
A Gorilla trek is one of the most thought-after wildlife activities on the African continent and the entire universe. Many tourists travel to Africa mainly to enjoy and have a closer encounter with these great apes in their natural habitat. Before embarking on a gorilla safari in either Uganda or Rwanda, many people worry about their safety and behaviors while observing mountain gorillas in Volcanoes National Park or Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Before booking their gorilla safaris, they must find answers to the below questions.
- Do mountain gorillas charge and why?
- What reasons make a gorilla charge to human beings?
- What should you do when a silverback gorilla charges at you?
Being experts in providing reliable information to all those interested in Visiting Africa for gorilla trekking, we will provide answers to the above questions in this writeup but before we do that, some background information about gorillas will be helpful for you to appreciate why gorillas may decide to charge at you. It’s on record that whether in a zoo or in the wild jungles of Africa, mountain gorillas are considered to be the most peaceful of the so many primates on planet earth. Mountain gorillas live and are organized in families or groups led by the eldest and strong male referred to as the dominant silverback. Once in a while, fights do occur among members of a given gorilla family but are quickly resolved and calmness returns. Such fights are always watched and resolved by the dominant silverback which is the head of the group. As long as the dominant silverback is still strong, it will command respect from all group members including females, juveniles and other blackbacks aspiring to take over the family should the leader lose control.
Just Like human beings or other wild animals in some top African National parks, mountain gorillas sometimes get aggressive when exposed to the presence of strangers. However, they only behave so when they feel threatened by strangers or when another strong silverback mountain gorillas from another family try to attack in order to take some females and other members from the group in order to form their own family. If mountain gorillas sense that there is an intruder trying to disorganize or attack them, they will with immediate effect warn them by making loud noises and tearing branches and vegetation. The lead silverback will even stand up on its two hind legs and thump its chest so hard to show supremacy and power it holds. By doing so, it will be an indication that it is ready to defend and protect the entire family against any intruder.
One prime reason why gorilla tourism is possible in Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo is possible and also the most after the sought activity is because wild mountain gorillas can be trained to get used to the presence of human beings. The process of habituating mountain gorillas can take 2-3 years and during this time, experts and researchers keep following and taming an identified wild gorilla family until it becomes comfortable with the presence of human beings in their midst. To achieve this, they must consistently follow them until they gain their confidence and trust most especially that of the dominant silverback which is the head of the group. Once they are accepted by the lead silverback, then it becomes easy for the rest of the members to do the same. A mock exercise is then conducted for some months before the family is fully opened up for gorilla trekking.
It should be not in Bwindi impenetrable National Park and Volcanoes National Park, not all mountain gorillas are habituated, there are some that are still wild and when they sense an intruder, they will either run away or decide to charge at them. Even those that are habituated sometimes and once in a while will charge at you depending on certain circumstances.
Why do mountain gorillas charge during a gorilla trek?
There are so many reasons why habituated mountain gorillas do charge during or before gorilla trekking. One important point to note is that 98% of gorilla charges are intended or faked to check the trust of the people coming to see or visit them. In some gorilla families, a given silverback or blackback which is second in command normally keeps watching out for intruders at a distance, if he notices some people coming towards the rest of the family, it may fake the charge to see if indeed you will be scared or run away. By not running away means that you are indeed friendly and will lead you to where the rest of the members will be. In other groups, the dominant silverback will charge since he is the one in charge of warning and protecting other group members. When the threat is so grave, he will be joined by other silverbacks and blackbacks in the group to stage a strong resistance against intruders such as poachers.
Before heading to the forest for gorilla trekking in either Bwindi, Mgahinga, or Volcanoes National Park, tourists are taken through a briefing by rangers and wardens and during such briefings, tourists are reminded about the possible behaviors of mountain gorillas as well as rules and regulations to follow when approaching and when with gorillas. Your ranger guide will ensure that you are aware of what to expect when you meet these gorillas. Of course, the rangers and trackers will take time to observe the real mood of the family before allowing anyone to get close to them. If they feel the primates are uncomfortable and behave in a way that is not friendly, such as the constant and prolonged beating of the chest as well as vocalizations.
Such behaviors may scare tourists and that’s why the minimum age for gorilla trekking in Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo is 15 to avoid children or minors who are not likely to follow briefing guidelines as well as rules and regulations.
Reasons that make gorillas angry to charge at you
As earlier noted, mountain gorillas don’t normally charge at people, when this happens, it is on rare occasions because of the below reasons
- When not frequently visited after the process of gorilla habituation has been completed
- When a wild and solitary silverback tries to take over a habituated gorilla group
- Tourists making unexpected movements and behaviors when with mountain gorillas
- Wearing clothes with colors such as yellow that are bright
- Getting too close to one of the family members.
- Maintaining eye contact with a given individual mountain gorilla in the group. This makes him or her uncomfortable
- Spending a lot of time with a gorilla group surpassing the recommended one hour.
- Visiting a mountain gorilla family in large numbers
- Meeting a wild and un habituated mountain gorilla family which is not used to human beings.
- When you make a lot of noise in the presence of mountain gorillas
- When you visit mountain gorillas in numbers beyond 8 people
- Engulfing or surrounding a given group of mountain gorillas without your knowledge sends a bad signal to them and may decide to charge at you
- Putting on your camera flash while taking photos of these gorillas
- Pointing a touch directly in the eyes of a mountain gorilla
- When the family in question has had a bad day
- When you meet a solitary gorilla that has been isolated and chased away from a group
- Getting too close to a mother gorilla with kids or breast feeding.
Let’s now try to discuss each of the above issues in detail: –
When not frequently visited after the process of gorilla habituation has been completed:
It should be noted that fully habituated mountain gorillas must be frequently be visited and if not, they will return to their natural character of being wild. These constant visits on a daily basis ensure that gorillas remain comfortable in the presence of people. During low seasons when tourists are few, rangers and park staff always visit habituated mountain gorillas frequently. When Covid 19 lockdown hit Africa, there was a worry that if these gorillas continue to live without being visited by tourists would become wild again. Thanks go to Park authorities in Uganda, Rwanda, and DRC who could make constant and daily visits to each of the habituated mountain gorilla families in their respective national parks.
When a wild and solitary silverback tries to take over a habituated gorilla group:
A given gorilla family may become so aggressive to humans when it has been taken over by a wild un habituated silverback replacing the one which is habituated. Because it is now the head of the group and mandated to protect the rest of the members, it will automatically be aggressive by charging at people in order not to allow them meet or visit the rest of the members. When such happens, the family will be closed off for tourism until the new silverback is habituated to get used to humans.
Tourists making unexpected movements and behaviors when with mountain gorillas.
Those who have trekked mountain gorillas in Uganda or Rwanda will tell you that habituated mountain gorillas will pretend to be minding their business when actually they are taking a closer look at a very movement that you make. They, therefore, advised that tourists beware of the movements that may cause these gorillas to charge at them. For example, insects bite, if one or so tourists or they enter your clothes, making you uncomfortable resulting in jumping up and down while in the presence of mountain gorillas. When with gorillas always keep a low profile, look submissive, avoid constant eye contact, and with such gorillas will also return the favor.
Wearing clothes with colors such as yellow that are bright
Mountain gorillas are wild animals and are used to natural colors of mostly green, brown, or black. This is because their surroundings such as soil, trees, are dark and or dull. Avoid bright colors when with mountain gorillas since it might change their mood, resulting in charging or attacking you. We, therefore, recommend clothes with dull colors to mend with the type of environment these gorillas live and understand.
Getting too close to one of the family members.
It should be noted that much as the gorilla family you will be visiting is fully habituated does not take away the fact that members are still wild animals. By you coming so close to any member of the family might be assumed as an attack on all of them and they would be obliged to attack or charge at you. When in the presence of mountain gorillas, kindly keep a 7-meter distance as advised but should gorillas come closer to you, gently retreat to the recommended distance in order to maintain order while with mountain gorillas in either Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Maintaining eye contact with a given individual mountain gorilla in the group.
In the world we live in, it is believed that in order to communicate very well, one needs to maintain and sustain eye contact for confidence. This is not the case with mountain gorillas of Africa. Mountain gorillas are referred to as shy primates and looking directly into the eyes of any member of the group, most especially the dominant silverback irritates them and may result in charging or attacking you in due process. Always, and at all times, avoid looking directly into the eyes of these great apes. If your direct and sustained eye contact was accidental, please adjust and look away as soon as you discover that. This will save you of any charging or attack from mountain gorillas.
Spending a lot of time with a gorilla group.
All National Parks that have mountain gorillas in Africa allow only one hour with mountain gorillas. The purpose of setting the time spent with mountain gorillas to one hour is to allow these creatures to go about their daily activities without much interruption. Such activities include feeding, breastfeeding, and making nests. Overstaying of visiting a given mountain gorilla for a long time or several times a day may make them uncomfortable, resulting in charging at you.
Visiting a mountain gorilla family in large numbers
The maximum number of tourists or visitors allowed to visit a particular mountain gorilla group in Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo is 8. This number has been proved to be okay, but should it exceed 10 and more, these mountain gorillas may choose to retreat or charge at you since they are not used to so many people surrounding them.
When you make a lot of noise in the presence of mountain gorillas
Mountain gorillas are used to quiet and natural environments with less and unusual noise. When approaching or with mountain gorillas in Volcanoes, Bwindi, Mgahinga, or Virunga National Park, try to reduce your noise and avoid shouting or trying to imitate the sound and vocalization from these great apes. Let your ranger guide do the talking and communication with the gorillas.
Meeting a wild and un habituated mountain gorilla family.
As you trek into the jungles of these tropical rainforests that are home to mountain gorillas, you may accidentally meet a wild and unhabituated group of mountain gorillas. Remember, such a group is not used to the presence of human beings and your encounter may me misinterpreted to be their enemies. As usual, you should expect anything from them including charging and an attempt to attack you. In such a circumstance, you should trust your ranger guide who will issue guidelines and instructions to follow.
Engulfing or surrounding a given group of mountain gorillas without your knowledge.
When with mountain gorillas, it is recommended to leave enough space for them. That’s why tourists are told to keep 7 meters from mountain gorillas and to keep them in one place instead of surrounding them. If you try to obstruct their pass and activities by surrounding them, they may move away or, in the worst scenario, charge and try attacking you. Always follow rules and regulations as well as instructions from your ranger guide.
Putting on your camera flash while taking photos of these gorillas
When you come for gorilla trekking in Uganda, Rwanda, or even the Democratic Republic of Congo, you only take home memories, photos, and videos. During the briefing, your ranger guide will advise on how best to take your photos without using flashlights. This is because flash may arise curiosity leading to the charging of these mountain gorilla individuals during your trek.
Pointing the light of a torch directly in the eyes of a mountain gorilla
The main purpose of gorilla trekking in Bwindi, Volcanoes or Virunga National Park is to have a feel and experience what it feels to be with mountain gorillas in their natural habitats. Because of the dense forest in Bwindi or any other park, there is sometimes darkness which may trigger you to use your torch to create more visibility. If you do so, please avoid torching directly in the eyes of any individual mountain gorilla, most especially young gorillas, and the silverbacks. Torching directly in the eyes of the mentioned individuals may result in charging at you and the rest of the group in protest.
When the family in question has had a bad day.
Like human beings, mountain gorillas also experience bad and good days in their life. The time comes when these apes can lose their minds because of so many reasons, including fights amongst themselves, wild gorillas attacking them, or if some individuals are wounded or sick. During such moments, such gorillas may need you to keep a distance, and should you refuse, the result may not be good.
A Silverback or Blackback gorilla that has been chased from the group.
Sometimes an individual has been dismissed or suspended from the family for one reason of the other. The next in command (Other silverbacks will fight most of the time) in a bid to take over the leadership of the family. Should such happen and the dominant silverback is defeated and chased out of the family? It becomes solitary and hostile to anyone at any one time. Meeting such an individual would definitely spark off a charge.
Getting too close to a breast-feeding mother or with kids:
Just like any mother in society, female mountain gorillas are so protective when with their young ones. They feel they have a duty to protect their offspring any time of the day. It is therefore advised to stay away from breastfeeding mothers at all times. Please seek advice from your ranger guide all the time.
What to do if a gorilla charges at you.
As earlier noted, mountain gorillas rarely charge, and when they charge 99% of the charges are fake. But should they charge at you, please do the following: –
Calm down and lie back
When a gorilla charges at you, please pretend as if nothing has happened, don’t panic, try to lower yourself down since mountain gorillas enjoy the feel of being superior. Never at one time try to run away as mountain gorillas are faster than human beings. Mountain gorillas cannot attach to you if you remain calm and submissive. Remember, you are doing all this guarded by an armed ranger guide who is not only knowledgeable in the behaviors of mountain gorillas but ready to defend you when everything gets out of hand, which is not always the case.
Another thing to do to avoid mountain gorillas charging on you is to groom them when they touch you. If they do so, please return the favor and scratch or touch their back so that you prove to them that you are a friend and not an enemy. If it is time to move, kindly withdraw gently without panic and avoid sudden movements which may be mistaken by gorillas to be aggression.
Wait for your ranger guide to help:
In whatever you do or comes to your mind when mountain gorillas charge, remember that amidst you are rangers and guides who will provide all the guidance needed on your trek. That said, we have had no incident where a mountain gorilla attacked any client in Uganda and Rwanda. This is because the whole experience is well organized, guided, and conducted by professional and well-trained ranger guides in Bwindi, Mgahinga, Volcanoes, and Virunga National Parks in Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo respectively.