There are just about 1004 mountain gorillas that are left in the whole world. According to the recent mountain gorillas census, there are two separate populations in Africa; Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and the Virunga massif. For some good time. mountain gorillas have been listed as the critically endangered species. Hpwever with the latest news, these great apes have got off the critical list though they still remain as endangered species on the IUCN red list.
Mountain gorillas are only found in the tropical rain forests which includes Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and Mgahinga national park of Uganda, the Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda and the Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Following the unending threats to their survival in the wild such as poaching, habitat loss and civil wars many conservationists came up to bring the need to protect these great apes to the whole world. One of the key conservationists that have helped in protecting the mountain gorillas is Dian Fossey who studied and lived with these great apes for a period of 18 years in the Virunga Volcanoes. She studied the mountain gorillas and even brought their plight of international recognition to the whole world. It is noted by the time of her death she had done a great work and the mountain gorillas had increased in number to about 250 mountain gorillas in the Virunga Volcanoes.
In Uganda, gorilla tourism began in 1993 with one gorilla family was habituated for tourist visits in Buhoma. This process followed the evicting of the Batwa in 1991 who lived in the forest for years with the mountain gorillas. These forest dwellers were evicted given that it was thought that they could cause habitat loss and transmit diseases to the apes. The newly introduced gorilla visits were highly regulated so that tourism may not affect the great apes negatively. A carrying capacity was set to only 6 visitors being permitted to visit a habituated gorilla family.
From that point, gorilla tourism and conservation have become intertwined. The receipts from gorilla tourism help in promoting gorilla conservation. The conservation efforts have paid off. The mountain gorillas are registering an increase in number and the kingdom is expanding. There are several mountain gorillas that have been habituated for tourism and can be explored in Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
In Uganda you will find the mountain gorillas in Bwindi Forest which is a home to over 400 mountain gorillas. There are 18 habituated gorilla families within the impenetrable forest. The first gorilla family to be habituated in Bwindi was Mubare in Buhoma and so far several have been habituated in 4 different sectors of the forest. These include Kyaguliro, Kahungye, Bweza, Rushegura, Mishaya, Busigye, Nkuringo, Oruzongo, Bitikura, Bikingi, Bushaho and the recent added habituated gorilla families Christmas and Katwe. The dense tropical forest is not only home to mountain gorillas but other wild life species like red tailed monkeys, forest elephants and bird species.
Mgahinga is yet another destination where gorilla safaris are conducted in Uganda with one habituated gorilla family, Nyakagezi spanning in the foot hills of Virunga ranges.
Volcanoes national park in Rwanda is reported to have more than 200 mountain gorillas. There are ten habituated gorilla families open for tracking. While virunga national park has 6 habituated gorilla families but due to civil and political unrest in Congo the gorilla tourism is on and off.
Cost of gorilla permits
Gorilla permits in Uganda are at 600 and 1500 dollars for gorilla tracking and gorilla habituation respectively, only 96 permits are issued per day per gorilla family, therefore permits need to be booked in advance not to miss out on this expedition.
In Rwanda a gorilla Permit is relatively priced at 1500 dollar and only 80 permits are issued per day, whereas Congo a gorilla permit is at 400 dollars.
How to get there
In Uganda, the travel time from Entebbe Airport to Bwindi takes approximately 9 to 10 hours by car however there are also charter flights available and will take about 1.5 hours
By contrast you can arrive in Kigali about 2 to 3 hrs drive to Bwindi or Mgahinga and explore the mountain gorillas. This proves to be the shortest route and an alternative to cut on the long distance journey.
In Rwanda the airport is within the city and about 2 hrs drive form the airport to volcanoes national park.
In Congo, the only alternative is to arrive in Kigali and transfer to Congo through Goma border.
The experience of exploring the three magical kingdoms is definitely not the same from price of gorilla permits, distance.
In Uganda , the rain forest has steep slopes, thick vegetation that you to go through the running water falls in such of the mountain gorillas makes it tough to hike where as in Rwanda due to the rainforest vegetation being thinner allows easier viewing and hiking however you require physical fitness.
Gorilla trekking is a magical encounter and should be highly thought of when a planning a safari, the feeling of finally meeting them in their natural environment runs to the tears of joy forgetting the hustle of hiking through slippery forest.