Few travellers are granted the good fortune of enjoying one of the most exciting wildlife-watching experiences in the world, a visit to the home of the great mountain gorillas of East Africa.
Undoubtedly one has to have a touch of the intrepid explorer to go in search of the gorillas. Finding the handful of ‘families’ who have been habituated to human presence, is not for the faint of heart.
If a gorilla sighting is your ambition – do it now. The Uganda Wildlife Authority, which takes good care of these animals, recently announced, “With the number of foreign tourists steadily increasing, the present demand is greater than supply.” It takes time to ‘habituate’ a family, so for the immediate future, it seems there will be no expansion.
The expedition starts in Kampala, Uganda’s capital city built on seven hills on the shores of the great Lake Victoria. To reach gorilla country requires a journey westwards towards the Rwanda border and the aptly named Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. Half of the current world population of mountain gorillas lives here, about 300 of them, divided into families and each lorded over by a dominant silverback male.
Bwindi is said to be the only forest in Africa where gorillas and a substantial chimpanzee population live harmoniously together.
Gorilla watchers head into the forest in small groups with the Ugandan government ranger guide, each has paid their permit fee for the privilege of joining the trek; this money is used for conservancy and protection of the animals.
Guides lead the way, starting at the last known overnight spot for the family of gorillas, who move on each day in search of food. It can be a challenging climb up steep and slippery slopes and the area is 6,000-7,000 feet above sea level so that it’s more tiring than it would be at sea level, but the rewards are great once the family being sought is found and the group can settle in near them to watch.
Visitors are permitted one hour in the presence of one of the five families accessible at this point in time. They may look fearsome, but these animals are timid vegetarians. It takes a bit of time for them to become used to humans to the point where they will accept their close presence and carry on with the family’s daily routine.
Uganda has a great deal more to interest visitors. Generally accepted as being one of the loveliest countries in the whole of Africa – it was called The Pearl of Africa by Winston Churchill – it has several major game reserves with most of the animal species that people expect to see in Africa.
In the Queen Elizabeth National Park, for instance, lucky visitors may see the famed tree-climbing lions of Ishasha, who like to loll around in the upper branches of fig trees. Herds of buffalo, Uganda kob, topi and elephants are there in plenty and there’s a sizable hippo population.
Lake Mburo National Park, like Bwindi located in the southern part of western Uganda, is built around five lakes and its rolling hills and valleys shelter herds of impala, klipspringer, eland and buffalo among the 68 different types of species that live here.
AFRICAExperts – the exclusive division of Goway Travel (that specializes only in Africa), has several gorilla encounters for you to consider in both Uganda and Rwanda. If you don’t have the time to take our 6 & 8 day suggestions, our 3 & 4 day gorilla experiences make a fabulous extension to a safari in East Africa.
6 days Gorilla and Chimpanzee Express (Uganda)
8 days Gorillas, Wildlife & Chimps (Uganda)
4 days Mountain Gorilla Encounger (Rwanda)
3 days Mountain Gorilla Encounter (Rwanda)
14 days East Africa Safari (Kenya & Tanzania)
8 days Essential Kenya Safari
7 days Essential Tanzania Safari