Gorilla Habituation in Bwindi
Gorilla habituation in Bwindi means training wild mountain gorillas to get comfortable in the presence of human beings in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. In Africa, mountain gorilla habituation experience is offered only in Bwindi impenetrable national park. Bwindi Impenetrable national park is a UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site found in the southwestern region of Uganda in Kanungu district covering the area of 331 kilometers. The park borders the democratic republic of Congo and Rwanda. It is approximately 474 kilometers that takes an 8 hours drive from Kampala the capital city of Uganda. Bwindi impenetrable national park famous for being home to the endangered mountain gorillas (over 400 individuals) and is an outstanding ecological system composed of various both low land and montane forests, various bird species, mammals and primates.
Mountain gorilla habituation is not offered in Rwanda’s volcanoes national park or Democratic Republic of Congo’s Virunga national park. It is only in Uganda’s Bwindi impenetrable national park. In Uganda, mountain gorilla habituation was introduced by Uganda wildlife authority in 2015 on a small scale and it is operated by a group of researchers operating under the department of research. The Gorilla habituation process in Bwindi involves a group of people including conservationists, trackers, researchers, rangers and journalists.
Mountain gorilla habituation process takes 2 to 3 years and it involves identifying a wild mountain gorilla family, learning the mountain gorillas’ behavior, how they react to different situations and their sex individually in a deeper perspective to an extent of giving the endangered animals names according to their personality and behavior. After training the mountain gorillas and they are used to researchers, a mock exercise of 1 to 2 years is carried on the gorillas to make sure they are ok and comfortable with human presence and if the trainers are sure the habituation was a success, the gorilla group is open to receive visitors.
Mountain gorillas in Bwindi impenetrable national park are habituated in gorilla groups in various sectors for gorilla trekking, for example, Habinyanja, Rushegura, and Mubare in Buhoma sector found in the northern region of the Bwindi. Gorilla Groups of Mishaya, Nshongi, Kahungye, Busingye, and Bweza in the Rushaga sector found in the northern region of Bwindi. Ruhija sector is made up of Oruzogo, Kyaguriro, and Bitukura gorilla families located in the eastern region of Bwindi and Nkurigo sector which consists of only Nkurigo family at the higher altitudes of Bwindi. Though there is a lot of families in Bwindi and gorilla habituation experience only takes place in Rushanga and Nkurigo sectors.
Mountain gorilla habituation experience is the best way to view mountain gorillas up close, unlike gorilla trekking. Gorilla habituation experience offers the tourist more time that is four hours to observe mountain gorillas in their natural habitat, also involves the active participation of tourists in the habituation process and for photographers and photo lovers there is more time to take photos when compared to normal gorilla trekking. The best time to go for gorilla habituation experience is in the dry months of December to March and June to October though it takes place throughout the year.
For any tourist to get involved in gorilla habituation you need a habituation permit, a habituation permit is purchased at the offices of Uganda wildlife authority or you can book your permit through your tour operator, if using a tour operator you are supposed to provide them with your personal details (scanned copy of your valid passport and date your intending to travel). While planning to go for gorilla habituation experience it is advisable to book your ticket 3 to 4 months prior to your actual dates of the experience because there are always fewer tickets issued when compared to tourists with a desire to participate in the trekking. A gorilla habituation permit costs US$ 1500 for foreign non-resident, USD 1000 for foreign residents with a working permit, 750,000 for Ugandans and East African residents (Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, and Burundi). The habituation permit entitles a tourist four hours in habituation with gorillas together with free park entry and security which is provided by the park security team that is Uganda tourism police were rangers are equipped with AK 47 guns to scare away wild animals which would attack tourists and a trained tour guide.
Like mountain gorilla trekking, gorilla habituation experience has rules and regulations drafted by Uganda wildlife authority for tourists to follow while conducting themselves in the presence of mountain gorillas. These apes are shy and calm creatures but when irritated and threatened they can become dangerous so it is greatly advisable to follow these rules, these rules include:
- Only a group of 6 people are allowed to participate in the gorilla habituation experience, unlike normal gorilla trekking a few people of 6 people are to get involved in the habituation.
- Ill tourists are not allowed to participate in the habituation experience. Mountain gorillas share 98% of their DNA composition with human beings meaning they can contract a large percentage of human diseases, for example, bacterial infections and flue.
- Mimicking mountain gorilla gestures is critically prohibited, mountain gorillas make a lot of gestures of which we do not know the meaning. Mimicking their actions might provoke unwanted reactions from mountain gorillas which may be dangerous to tourists.
- While on habituation experience tourists are advised to keep a distance of 7 meters away from mountain gorillas, gorillas can easy get irritated so it is advisable to keep a distance to avoid any accident.
- Do not use flash while taking pictures, photography is allowed during gorilla habituation nut using cameras with flash on is not allowed as the flashes irritate mountain gorillas which might provoke dangerous actions from them.
- Control your movements and noise while on habituation experience, unnecessary movements and too much noise irritate the mountain gorillas.
- Tourists below the age of 15 are not allowed to participate in the habituation experience, tourists below the age of 15 are considered children and children being children are not easy to control.
- Always stay in a group, wondering off while in the deep forests of Bwindi might land you into unwanted trouble as you might get lost to bushes harboring dangerous animals like snakes, non-habituated gorillas and more.
- Always follow instructions as they are given to you by your guides and rangers
While going on gorilla habituation experience there some essentials which are very crucial for you to enjoy your experience. These essentials for gorilla habituation include:
- Long comfortable shirts and trousers, long-sleeved shirts and trousers are needed because it helps tourists avoid scratches and piercings from thorny plants and itches from itching plants while hiking in the deep forests of Bwindi.
- Insect repellent. Insect repellents are really needed while on the experience, it is to help you from bites caused by mosquitoes and other biting insects.
- Gardening gloves and a hat, gloves are important to help you not touch itching and hook-filled plants and also for sanitary purposes, a hat is also helpful to prevent you from scorching sunlight.
- Rain jacket, according to weather conditions in Bwindi forest impenetrable national park it rains any time that is why it is helpful to carry a rain jacket to prevent you from getting wet.
- A waterproof bag is needed to prevent your items from getting wet in case it rains while on the experience.
- Drinking water is also needed for refreshment and packed lunch as the experience takes more time and expected.
- A porter is a helpful while on the habituation experience as he is to carry your bag containing your items
- A camera with reserve batteries, memories are best wonderfully kept in photos, a tourist should carry a camera with reserve batteries as the habituation experience offer more time taking pictures.
- A hiking stick, this stick is used to help you navigate through the hilly slippery terrain of Bwindi forest impenetrable national park as support.
- Strong hiking shoes. Slippers are not good for gorilla habituation experience so strong hiking shoes are helpful to use while climbing the hilly terrain of the forests.
While doing gorilla habituation experience accommodation can be found at Buhoma lodge, Buhoma community rest camp, Trackers safari lodge, Buhoma haven lodge, Sanctuary gorilla forest camp, Lake Kitandara Bwindi Camp, Silverback lodge and many more.