Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is home to mountain gorillas, but you wouldn’t know it by looking. Thick vegetation cloaks the hills the gorillas call home, earning the area the “Impenetrable” moniker and making passage through the region notoriously difficult.
Despite this, or maybe because of it, several tour companies offer guided treks into this dense wilderness for a chance to see and experience the gorillas. The permits that Uganda has issued to outfitters usually allot just one hour of contact with gorillas, but a new permit obtained by Wild Planet Adventures allows four hours of observation.
This longer interaction allows a much fuller experience of the animals than a mere hour can provide. The longer time spent – an afternoon – assures trekkers can watch the mountain gorillas hunt, eat, patrol the area, care for their young and simply relax. The availability of a longer permit corresponds with the discovery of a new troop, furthering the excitement. Tour guiding researchers are working to habituate the new group.
Habituation is the process by which gorillas become familiar with the presence of humans. Wild Planet Adventures offers trips led by trained researchers, which helps the process of habituation occur in a way that least affects the animals. Proponents say habituation helps deter poaching, but some experts disagree. Human contact may expose gorillas to human diseases which may be dangerous because gorillas share 98% of the DNA in the human genome.
The unique and rare experience of contact with these magnificent animals drives either side of these arguments. Fewer than 1,000 mountain gorillas remain in the wild, and the Bwindi forest holds more than half of them. This is why Uganda issues permits with care and precautions. The regulatory agency suggests wearing masks when in close proximity of the gorillas, and expert leadership ensures gorillas aren’t too bothered.
The allure of the animals is undeniable. Primates are so endearingly human, yet the powerful silverback gorilla is a monstrous beast. Gorillas and chimpanzees are some of the only animals to use rudimentary tools, usually to access food. They care for their young over a longer period than most mammals and maintain strong family ties. It’s this human connection that makes them such a draw, and it’s also the reason to tread lightly.
If You Go
If trekking with gorillas is on your bucket list, make sure to check out the Nile while you’re down there too. The world’s longest river is available for kayaking, rafting and fishing, so it’d be a shame to miss such an attraction should you find nearby.