How difficult is the gorilla habituation experience excursion in Bwindi?
How difficult is the gorilla habituation experience excursion in Bwindi? Gorilla habituation, part of the gorilla trekking experience, is only carried out in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. It involves spending extra hours with the Mountain gorillas so that they get used to our presence.
Although mountain gorillas are presumed to be aggressive primates, they are not even when they are semi-habituated. They are physically large creatures with dark bodies, and at first glance, they seem scary, but once you spend time with them, you will know that they are shy around people and can only be aggressive once provoked.
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Gorilla habituation can be easy or difficult depending on the group of people trekking. Some of the factors that significantly contribute to the difficulty of gorilla habituation include being patient with the gorillas because they are wild animals, and you will need to be highly patient since they move from one place to the next; there are so many rules that need to be followed to help with the conservation of the gorillas and their natural habitat; the gorillas are sometimes hard to find due to their unpredictable movement; and you need to be physically fit.
What is gorilla habituation?
Gorilla habituation is the process used to get the wild mountain gorillas used to human presence without causing any change to their nature or surroundings. Gorilla habituation helps protect the endangered gorillas, which is a top priority for the countries that are home to the gorillas: Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Gorilla habituation might take about two years or more before a habituated family is open to trekking by the public.
Unlike gorilla trekking, Gorilla habituation is like an all-day hike that will get you closer to the gorillas. You get to observe the primates and participate in the habituation process. During habituation, you learn more about the behaviors of the gorillas. Besides trekking through the park in search of the gorillas, the habituation excursion is easy and is worth all the effort and money spent.
Gorilla habituation experiences have been available since 2016, and it is safe to note that the gorillas will be slightly shy around humans, so you shouldn’t get too close to them.
Gorilla habituation in Bwindi is only carried out in the Rushaga sector, located in the southern part of the national park. The Rushaga sector is part of the four sectors found in Bwindi, and the gorilla families that are found in Rushaga and open for gorilla habituation include the following:
Bweza family: The Bweza gorilla group, with 12 members, broke away from the Nshongi family and is currently under the leadership of Kakono, the silverback. Unlike other gorilla families, the permits for Bweza can be obtained at the park headquarters or the Uganda Wildlife Authority offices, and they go for 600 USD.
Mishaya family: Also known as the fighter group due to the silverback leader it had years ago, the Mishaya family has 12 members, and only 8 people can visit the group daily. It broke away from the Nshongi gorilla family after a dispute between the two silverbacks. Mishaya led it, and after his death, his son Mwine took over the group’s leadership.
Kahungye family: Kahungye is one of the newly introduced gorilla families in Rushaga with 13 members including 3 silverbacks. The group can be found in one of the many hills around Bwindi in Rushaga. Kahungye previously had 27 members before the dispute between the two dominant silverbacks led to the formation of the Busingye family.
Nshongi family: This is the largest gorilla family group in Rushaga and was named after the Nshongi River, where it was first sighted. It was opened to the public in 2009 and has 25 gorillas under the silverback known as Nshongi.
Busingye family: This is the newest family in the Rushaga sector and was officially opened to the public in 2011. The group broke away from the Kahungye family, has nine members, and is under the leadership of the silverback Busingye.
What happens during the gorilla habituation excursion experience in Bwindi?
The gorilla habituation process starts with an early morning briefing at the Rushaga sector, carried out by park officials on what to expect. By 7:30 a.m. or 8:00 a.m., the exercise begins. The hike will take you through flat and steep terrain as you search for the gorilla family assigned to you, and once you get to locate it, you have 4 hours with the primates.
How safe is gorilla habituation?
The answer is yes; gorilla habituation in Bwindi is a safe exercise when you follow all the gorilla trekking routes set up. You will also be in the presence of park rangers and experienced tour guides who know their way around the national park. There are also other ways in which you can stay safe during the gorilla habituation experience, and these include the following:
- You can only enter the national park with authorized personnel like armed rangers or guides. Other wildlife lives within Bwindi besides the gorillas, and these are not habituated.
- The Uganda Wildlife Authority, in conjunction with other security agencies, provides security and helps keep tourists and animals safe from harm.
- Keep your property safe by keeping your room closed at all times.
- Follow all the rules that are given to you by the guides before the start of the trek.
What to consider when planning for a gorilla habituation experience in Bwindi
Important things to note or consider when planning for gorilla habituation include the following:
- Choosing the right tour company is the first step in enjoying your gorilla habituation in Bwindi. Conduct extensive research about the company, read reviews from other clients online, and ensure that the company you use is registered with the Association of Uganda Tour Operators (AUTO).
- Book in advance: Gorilla trekking permits are always in high demand, especially during the busy season between June and October, and that is why we always advise our clients to book six months before the trekking date to avoid last-minute hustle and other related issues. Booking early also ensures a comfortable safari for getting good accommodation.
- What to wear during the trek: This is also considered one of the most important aspects to consider while planning a gorilla habituation trek in Bwindi, and below is a list of items you should be aware of on your list.
- Gardening gloves to help with holding the branches and poles during the trek
- Long-sleeved shirts and trousers that are of neutral colors. Avoid jeans since they are high water retainers when wet; avoid shouting colors, such as blue, as it is believed to attract tsetse flies; and camouflage clothes because they are connected to the army.
- Strong, waterproof hiking shoes.
- Sunscreen, a sunhat, and insect repellent.
- A raincoat: Bwindi has unpredictable weather, with rains coming in during the dry season, and this is where the raincoat comes in handy.
- Gadgets like cameras and binoculars can help keep your memories and view other wildlife in the park beside the mountain gorillas.
Rules and regulations to follow during gorilla habituation excursion experience in Bwindi
The gorilla trekking rules were set up by the Uganda Wildlife Authority to help conserve the already endangered mountain gorillas. All tourists are supposed to follow the rules, which will be emphasized before the start of the trek. Some of the rules that need to be followed include the following:
- Keep a distance of about 7 meters from the gorillas; this helps to avoid the easy spread of diseases to the gorillas.
- Please turn off the flashlights when taking photos of the gorillas because it irritates them.
- Do not put on sunglasses while in the presence of the gorillas.
- Eating and drinking are not allowed in the fact of the gorillas.
- Avoid littering the national park; if you have any trash, we suggest you carry it back to the car.
- If you need to go for a long call, dig a hole of about 30 centimeters and cover it up afterward.
- If you are feeling sick, we advise that you inform the rangers in advance, and we advise that you put off trekking if you are not feeling well.
- When a gorilla approaches, ensure you are submissive and do not look at it directly in the eye since this will be viewed as challenging, especially the silverback.
- You will have a maximum of four hours with the mountain gorillas once you locate the family you are assigned to. Note that they keep moving from place to place, and you will have to search for the primates.
- If you feel like sneezing or coughing, do it away from the gorillas by turning away from them and into a handkerchief to reduce the spread of infections to the gorillas.
- People 15 years and above are the only ones allowed to participate in the gorilla habituation process. This is because they listen and follow the rules ideally compared to children, and the experience involves hiking in different topography.
- If possible, avoid spitting on the ground where the foliage which acts as food for the gorillas is found.
- You are not allowed to smoke when you are near or next to the gorillas. You can, however, do so at a distance of about 200 meters.
- Talk in low tones and quietly during the habituation process to not disrupt the mountain gorillas and other wildlife in the national park.
- Only 4 people are allowed to participate in the gorilla habituation process per 4 hours.
Cost of a gorilla habituation permit
The cost of a gorilla habituation permit is slightly higher than the gorilla trekking permit, and different types/categories of tourists pay extra prices for the permit.
Foreign residents 1000 USD
Foreign non-residents 1500 USD
East African Citizens 150, 000 Ushs.
The cost of the gorilla habituation permit covers four uninterrupted hours with the gorillas, park fees, Gorilla conservation support, Ranger guide fees, a certificate of participation, Local community support and security. The permit, however, excludes porter fees, energy bars, tipping, and any personal purchases made by the tourists.
Where can I get the gorilla habituation permits?
Gorilla habituation permits are purchased from the Uganda Wildlife Authority, the regulating body in Uganda. You can purchase the permit directly from UWA or through a registered tour operator. Avoid purchasing gorilla permits from a third party online, especially if they sell them cheaply, to avoid being scammed. We advise that you purchase the permit through your choice of tour operator because purchasing it directly from UWA takes a long time, with lots of phone calls and a long line of people waiting.
Where to go for gorilla habituation in Uganda
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park has half the world’s remaining gorilla population, making it the best destination for gorilla habituation and trekking. Gorilla habituation is currently only carried out in Bwindi and was introduced to the national park to train the primates in getting used to human presence. Unlike gorilla trekking, where tourists spend an hour with the gorillas, gorilla habituation offers 4 hours, giving trekkers more time with the primates.
The best time to go for gorilla habituation
The best time for gorilla habituation is during the dry season, from June to October and December to early March. This is also known as the peak season, and you must book early for an enjoyable trek. You should, however, note that the weather in Bwindi is unpredictable and can change at any given time, so you need to be ready for the rain showers even during the dry season. Gorilla habituation permits are rare and hard to get during the peak season, and we always advise our clients to book at least six or three months before the travel date.
Tourists visiting Bwindi for the gorilla habituation experience should note that the national park is home to the Mountain Gorillas, and this is their territory, which means that you will need to follow all the rules and expect anything because this is the wild.
How to get to Bwindi
There are two ways in which you can get to Bwindi, and these are by either flying or driving to the national park. You can drive from Entebbe International Airport to Bwindi, which will take you about 9 to 10 hours; you can access the park through Rwanda or fly from Kajjansi airstrip to the nearest airstrip (Kisoro airstrip) for one hour and a half, where a tour vehicle will be waiting to take you to the national park on a 45 minutes drive (note that this is the best but also an expensive way of getting to Bwindi). The shortest route is from Kigali through the Uganda-Rwanda border, which takes about 4 hours.
In conclusion, the gorilla habituation experience excursion is not challenging if you are well prepared when it comes to fitness, ready for anything, patient, and if you follow everything said to you by the tour guides and rangers because they know what they are doing because they have been in the business and know the terrain.
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