I still have to pinch myself when thinking about it… I have seen the endangered mountain gorillas!
After my internship I did two weeks travel throughout Uganda, to see some more of the country before flying back home. Visiting one of the gorilla families is something you have to plan months in ahead. There are limited people allowed every day to visit the gorillas. Every gorilla family will be visited once a day by a group of maximum 7 people, excluded the guider/rangers and trackers. But my trip was only booked just a week before it started! That meant that the changes for me to see a gorilla family was really low.. but thanks to the amazing tour guide and his connections they managed to get a permit for me! 🙂
I did not hear this news the evening before the tracking, and even then we were not a 100% sure I could go. There would be no promise until I was standing in front of them. I was really really nervous that morning. We had to get up at 6 a.m. in the morning to be on time for the briefing, meeting our guide etc. When we were standing in front of our guide he got a call and my heart beat raised to a 150, I was afraid that he was going to tell that there was no permit for me. But when he hangs up, he didn’t tell anything and seconds later my passport came back. No problems at all. Time to start the tracking!
How will you be able to track a gorilla family?
When you managed to get a permit for a gorilla tracking in Uganda, you will be tracking in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. This NP is located in the South-West of Uganda, close to the borders with Rwanda and Congo. The area where the national parks are located in the Virunga mountains. All the gorilla tracking permits will be given out by Uganda Wildlife Authority. Uganda Wildlife Authority manages all the parks in Uganda and therefore also the tracking for gorillas and Chimpanzees. When you have a booked tour through Uganda almost all the travel agencies will handle the permit for you, but if you are travelling by yourself it can be hard to get a permit. You have to contact to UWA and get your permit in their head office in Kampala. Before travelling to Bwindi for the actual tracking.
Costs of a permit
The permit for gorilla tracking is 600 USD, quite a lot of money. With I can say that it is worth every cent, not only because you will get really close to the gorillas, but also because they put a lot of time, effort and money into the protection of the gorillas. In that 600 USD is also the entry fee for the park, the trackers, rangers and the guide included. The only thing that can raise up the price is the tip for the guide. But this is not obligated and can be as high as you want.
It is also possible to do a gorilla tracking just across the border in Congo or Rwanda. Although tracking in Congo would not be recommended at this moment because of the conflicts that are going on. Rwanda is save, but there is a big price difference. In Rwanda, you pay 1500 USD dollars to go tracking.
My track to the gorillas
But all the effort will be worth it. After the briefing and meeting, you guide you will be driven to the place where the hiking will start. The starting points depending on the family you are going to. This to limit the hiking time as much as possible. Our group went to the Kahungye family. We started in the middle of a village from where we went to the countryside and after 45 minutes we entered Bwindi Impenetrable National park after crossing a little river. From on this point, it became tough, really tough. Or you are climbing on the stiff hillside, which is slippery because there was a lot of rain in the past few days or you are descending on a stiff hillside, which is slippery as well. Every few seconds there was a little scream in our train of people because somebody slipped away in the mud. I can proudly say that I managed to stay on my feet the whole time!
The first glimpse of the gorilla family
After walking for 2 hours in total we were suddenly so close to the gorillas that we had to stop. There were some last safety instructions, the last possibility to get some drinks, drop your sticks and there we went. The last few meters before we were standing in front of the gorillas. And the very first sight was from a massive silverback just relaxing on his butt.. eating some twigs…
All our mouths dropped open, we were really standing in front of the endangered mountain gorillas! In 2012 they estimated to be around 880 individuals left in the wild. At this moment the numbers are slowly rising, but with the conflicts in Congo, the climate change and declining amount of natural habitat their future is not sure.