How is safety and security guaranteed during gorilla trekking in Uganda?
Gorilla trekking is an exceptional and once-in-a-lifetime experience that we cannot recommend enough to all our clients. Mountain gorillas are an endangered species that can only be trekked in three countries: Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the Virunga region, which has made these giant primates a top tourist attraction in the three countries.
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Although they are large and powerful primates, they never have an interest in attacking or causing harm to humans unless they are provoked, which is rare to zero occurrence. Safety is one of the most essential aspects when it comes to gorilla trekking. The governments in the different countries have ensured that the gorillas are well taken care of and protected, and the offer of protection is offered to the visitors.
Safety during gorilla trekking in Uganda has attracted large crowds of tourists to Mgahinga National Park and Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. You need to know that safety goes both ways. With the government ensuring that the exercise is safe by providing armed rangers plus other security measures, you also need to keep safe by following the guidelines. Below are some of the steps that are taken to ensure safety during gorilla trekking.
Gorilla trekking personal safety tips
We are first going to look at the measures that the government has put in place to ensure that the tourists are safe and also to make sure that the gorillas are protected as well. Some of the measures that the Uganda Wildlife Authority came up with for safety reasons include:
The Briefing session on the trek day
A briefing before you take part in the gorilla trekking session is carried out early morning on the trek day by experienced guides. This session is compulsory for everyone intending to gorilla trek in Uganda, and it enables tourists to remember and understand the rules and regulations of gorilla trekking and expectations. During the briefing, you get an opportunity to remember the rules and keep them because failure to do so might lead to not trekking the gorillas by the affected party.
The trekking rules and regulations include:
- Tourists are advised to avoid eye contact with the gorillas because the male silverbacks view this as a challenge.
When the gorillas approach you, avoid turning your back on them and running away, as this might force them to chase you, leading to an attack.
- Ensure that you follow the strict instructions the guides give; for example, stand still, bow your head in subordination, and wait for the gorilla to walk away.
- Turn off the camera flash when taking photos. Gorillas are not used to them, which might cause agitation among them.
- Ensure that you keep a distance from the gorillas of about 7 meters and don’t clear the vegetation when planning on taking a photo of the primates. You should also note that although Mountain gorillas are habituated, they are still primal and can act impulsively, and this is one of the main reasons you need to keep the distance between you and them.
- Avoid making unnecessary movements when with the gorillas and communicate in low tones so as not to agitate them further.
The above are some of the rules and regulations you need to follow to stay safe during a gorilla trek, which is why you need to be extremely attentive during the briefing.
The permit cost includes an armed ranger who will be with you throughout the gorilla trek day. The ranger is provided by the Uganda Wildlife Authority, and their role is to ensure that animals and poachers do not attack tourists throughout the gorilla trek experience. They do not fire directly at the animals but in the sky to scare them away in case of an attack.
An experienced guide
When booking a gorilla safari in Uganda, the first thing to consider is the local tour operator you will use because they have experienced and professional guides to help you throughout your safari. Note that you are in unfamiliar territory and need to stay safe, and the best way to do this is by following the experienced guide who will ensure that you are safe throughout the trek. The guides know the safest route and how to access and locate the gorillas quickly. By following the guide’s lead, you are not only making sure that you are safe but also conserving the gorillas.
The security checkpoints
Before you access Bwindi or Mgahinga for a gorilla trek, you must go through a security check to ensure you do not threaten the gorillas and fellow trackers. At the security point, you will be checked for firearms, knives, cigarettes, and many other things that pose a threat to the primates. Visitors’ safety is ensured by doing this at the national park’s entrance.
Regular patrols before and during the trek
Regular patrols are carried out before, during, and after the trek by the rangers to make sure that the trek routes to be used are clear and safe. Although poachers have significantly reduced, the few who might still pose a threat to tourists are the main reason for regular patrols.
After looking at the measures that the government has taken to make sure that gorilla trekking is safe, we will look at how tourists can maintain personal safety. Below are some ways in which this can be done.
Book with a good local tour operator: before booking a gorilla trip, make sure that you do extensive research about the company you are about to use so that fake companies do not defraud you. Read reviews on TripAdvisor from other clients who have used the company before, and ensure that the company is legally registered, has worked with clients before, and has a company account for payments or any other genuine online payment plan. Avoid sending money to a personal account because it might be hard to trace it.
Follow all the trekking rules: Mountain gorillas are calm and peaceful primates until they believe they are being threatened. To avoid being attacked and irritating them, make sure that you stay with the group at all times; keep a distance of 7 meters between you and the gorilla; when approached by the gorillas, keep a low profile; bow down and do not look at the gorilla straight in the eye; avoid making noise; do not eat, drink, or smoke around the primates; give them space to move around; do not touch the baby gorillas even though it is tempting because the silverback might think that you want to harm their offspring; and do not litter the compound.
Get an easier hike: if you believe that you are not fit for a hike but would still want to hike, we recommend that you communicate with your operator so that you are assigned a more accessible family to hike with. The hike will still be the same as the rest; the only difference is that you will be given an easier family to hike with. Read more about gorilla trekking for seniors and disabled people.
Dress appropriately: gorilla trekking rules are extremely important, but so is the dress code if you want to avoid injuries. You will be hiking through an African jungle, and you will need to be well protected by putting on strong, sturdy hiking boots, long-sleeved shirts, trousers (avoid jeans), gaiters, thick socks, and sunglasses, but only during the hike, waterproof jackets, a warm sweater, and sunscreen, among others.
A good hotel: the internet is filled with many hotels you can book. We advise, however, that you get accommodation that is both safe and has comfortable rooms. Cheap hotels are always overcrowded and do not have the best facilities. So, it is best to let your tour operator book the spaces on your behalf since they are well-versed with the accommodations within and outside the national parks.
Purchase of permits: avoid purchasing gorilla trekking permits from the black market and sites that are not genuine and usually offer the licenses at a low cost. The only authentic places to get your permit are the local tour operators registered with the Association of Uganda Tour Operators, the Uganda Wildlife Authority in Uganda, and the Rwanda Development Board in Rwanda.
Frequently asked questions about the safety of gorilla trekking in Uganda and other gorilla trek destinations.
Is it safe to trek with gorillas in Uganda?
This is one of the most frequently asked questions by tourists, and if you are interested in mountain gorilla trekking in Uganda, it is best if you first find out whether it is safe or not. And to answer this question, the answer is a big yes. Uganda is one of the safest African safari destinations, and gorilla trekking is a very safe safari activity.
Due to the global COVID-19 outbreak that affected everyone, gorilla trekking activities have been suspended to protect the gorillas since they have almost 97% human DNA, making it easy for them to contact the disease. However, the activity has resumed, with many tourists visiting both Mgahinga and Bwindi impenetrable national parks.
Are there poachers in Bwindi and Mgahinga?
There are no poachers in both national parks after the government put up heavy sanctions on whoever is found poaching. And with the presence of the armed rangers, the few remaining poachers are always scared to approach the national park.
Do I have to worry about being attacked by gorillas on a trek?
The answer is no; you do not have to worry about being attacked by gorillas. UWA park rangers are always available to accompany tourists on their hikes through the national parks, and these always ensure that they are safe during gorilla trekking. Note that before a gorilla family is declared open for trekking, they are habituated to familiarize themselves with the presence of humans.
How safe is gorilla trekking in Uganda?
Gorilla trekking in Uganda is safe because this is a fully escorted adventure with armed rangers keeping watch. Gorilla trekking in Uganda is carried out in the Bwindi National Park, which is well-protected by armed rangers.
Is gorilla trekking safe in the Congo?
Unlike Uganda and Rwanda, where gorilla trekking is safe, Congo is a different case. The Democratic Republic of the Congo is a vast, unstable country in some parts, making it hard and unsafe to trek with gorillas in Virunga National Park. Unexpected attacks and the never-ending guerrillas have made the national park inaccessible, and it has been declared a high-risk no-go zone area. International interventions have been made to make sure that Congo stabilizes; however, that has not been the case, and countries like Australia, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, the USA, and Canada have advised their citizens to avoid gorilla trekking in Congo, with the last registered attack being in January 2021, which left six rangers dead.
The management of Virunga National Park takes the safety of hikers seriously, and armed rangers and wardens always escort visitors.
In conclusion, gorilla trekking is a safe exercise in Uganda. In the event of any changes as to whether Congo is secure, our website will be updated immediately with the news and any latest updates about the safety of gorilla trekking.
Safety starts with you, and for a fun and experienced gorilla safari to Uganda, we are here to help you organize your safari within your budget while at the same time putting the safety measures in place. Contact us for more information.