Many wildlife enthusiasts adventuring into the African wilderness are typically looking for pleasure out of their trips as well as safety of their lives is always a first priority before participating in any of the activities on their itineraries. The Tanzanian or south African big five mammals and fierce African predators including lions, leopards and hyenas, the heart stopping bungee jumping and white water rafting among other risky activities that may lead to death but surprisingly nature lovers risk their lives and participate in such dangerous activities. Then what about getting close to the mountain gorillas with 95 % o their genes similar to human beings widely accepted as man’s closest relative?
However many still ask whether gorillas are dangerous or not, well gorillas share 95 % of their DNA with human beings which makes them close relatives to humans, gorilla tours is carried primarily based on small groups of habituated mountain gorillas. Mountain gorilla habituation is a process of training gorillas to be familiar with the presence of people without changing their natural wild behavior. Done by experienced researchers, guides, trackers and few gorilla doctors for a period of 2 ½ years, still they are the ones taking you through gorilla trekking.
Therefore before gorillas are ready for visiting by tourists, there is gorilla habituation which eases the process of trekking and make gorillas less dangerous to people. From the time of booking your permit to walking into the forests on foot searching for gorillas is a guided and restricted process, additionally trekkers are always accompanied by armed rangers and guides with experience and knowledge of the daily activities of gorillas hence there are high chances of interacting with gorillas minus gorillas charging. However you are never guaranteed to see gorillas.
Typically mountain gorillas are vegetarians although feed on minerals salts and aunt hills, a group of gorillas is led by a giant male Silverback which establishes a feeding range between 20 – 40 km where there is plenty of food, spending more of the time on ground foraging on leaves and less time in trees especially during the fruiting seasons. The dominant silverback directs the movement of the group and can discipline hesitant members by beating them hence when it feels threatened by presence of humans; the silverback behaves abnormally by making noise and beating its chest as a sign of alerting other gorillas about the threat around them. Slowly gorillas keep moving away when they feel threatened.
To follow such complex movements of gorillas moving freely across borders of Rwanda, Uganda and DRC becomes difficult at times relevant to the old folks of Charles Darwin’s survival of the fittest, trekking gears must be obtained in advance through organized tour agents. Porters can be hired to ease visitors with backpacks to maximize visitor experience with gorillas and excellent photography.
Strict trekking rules including observing a 7 meter distance some times becomes meaningless when gorillas especially playful infants move closer to humans, guides shall tell you not to touch a gorilla but rather to standstill, or turning your face away from the gorillas and staying in a tight group are measures that could prevent any danger between gorillas and visitors.
You may never be compelled to face danger, but never fear it when you accept to enter the dense rain forests and while guides and trackers may understand gorillas, nevertheless it raises a concern whether humans are the ones infringing on the privacy of gorillas? Human diseases are among serious threats to the survival of gorillas which simply explains why gorilla safaris in Uganda, Rwanda and Congo are restricted with a maximum of 8 people allowed to see gorillas for only one hour on top of the expensive permits that few people manage to afford. Therefore visitors must not tease, use flash cameras or do actions that might anger gorillas whilst gorillas are not aggressive and less cases of gorilla attacks on tourists is a testimony of those who have once trekked.
First time trekkers will always be surprised that gorillas tend to pay less attention to humans in their midst but to reveal a true sign of how gentle and peaceful they are. Indeed staring into the eyes of gorillas is a once in a life time experience when you enjoy close views of adults feeding, grooming and resting as the young gorillas frolic and swing from branch to branch. Gorillas do not attack people when not threatened and will continue with their activities amidst presence of people.
Historically, Dian Fossey initiated conservation of mountain gorillas during the 1960’s even before gorillas were under threat of extinction as a result of poaching, encroachment and loss of habitats, illegal trading of pets, deforestation and human disease transmission which dramatically reduced their populations in the Virunga and Bwindi habitats. The ground breaking research of Dian Fossey greatly inspired governments in Rwanda, Uganda and the DRC to increase conservation and protection of gorillas and their habitats through gorilla tourism proceeds from sale of permits.
Over time, gorilla tourism helped to fund conservation mainly changing the attitudes of local communities through community development projects that significantly reduced poaching, deforestation and encroachment which slowly resulted into increase of gorilla numbers in the wild on top of gorilla doctors who dedicate their lives to treat sick gorillas.
Today, there are said to be about 880 mountain gorillas thriving in the wild with half of these about 400 living in Uganda and the rest divided between volcanoes national park in Rwanda and the Virunga mountains national park in the eastern DRC. Rwanda and Uganda remain popular destinations for gorilla tours and safaris. Volcanoes national park is a few hours drive from Kigali however with less gorilla numbers which is advantageous for bwindi national park with about 400 gorillas despite long but scenic drives.
Generally many tourists who have trekked gorillas testify about gorillas being among the most peaceable primates clearly meaning that gorillas are not dangerous. Gorilla trekking rules, guides and trackers are effective measures that make trekking habituated gorilla groups are accustomed to humans rather a safe experience. In adventure holidays as in trekking there is danger as well as glory, in being clever trekking gorillas is the most exciting, safe and life time experience than any other wildlife encounter on planet earth.