Is gorilla trekking ethical or is it bad for the gorillas?

The gorilla trekking experience is an activity that allows tourists trek into jungles where the gorillas live and watch the gorillas in their natural environment. This is done in Uganda, Rwanda and Congo that are home to the mountain gorillas in the Virunga mountain ranges spread across the three countries and Bwindi forest in Uganda, and the lowland gorillas in Congo. The gorillas are found in many other places across Africa but these three countries have developed the gorilla tourism industry and offer the best chances to see the gorillas in the forests.

It is an incredible experience coming face-to-face with the silverback gorilla and the entire gorilla family in the jungle. The gorillas have been habituated, and thus it is safe to be near them without any barrier. Gorilla habituation is the process of making the gorillas to get used to presence of humans so they can tolerate their presence instead of fleeing or charging at them. However the gorillas are by no means tame, they are very much still wild and there are guidelines for tourists to follow when with the gorillas to avoid situations that can agitate the gorillas.

Is gorilla tracking good or bad for gorillas? Is it an ethical activity?

Gorilla trekking is an exciting activity for the tourists that acquire lifetime memories, but for the gorillas is this a good thing for them? Is it good for the gorillas to be coming into contact with the humans? Is it good for the humans to be invading the delicate environment of the gorillas? These are questions often asked by many people who are conscious about wellbeing of wildlife and protecting the environment.

Well, the answer is not easy…

I can start off by saying there are advantages and disadvantages of gorilla trekking for the gorillas

The disadvantage is that the presence of humans around the gorillas puts the gorillas at risk. The biggest risk being transfer of diseases from humans to gorillas. Gorillas and humans share more than 98% of DNA and can therefore transmit diseases between each other. For example, in the past the ebola outbreaks in central and west Africa have nearly wiped out the gorilla populations in some places.

So what benefit do gorillas get from the visiting tourists or from gorilla trekking??

To be honest, it would be better if the gorillas are left alone in the jungle with no visits from tourists or anyone.

But there are benefits to gorillas, so much that the mountain gorillas in Uganda and Rwanda would not have survived till now if it were not for gorilla tourism. The gorilla tourism has brought in a lot of revenue for conservation efforts. The gorillas’ biggest threat to survival was the loss of habitat due to a growing population that was rapidly encroaching on the jungles. This also exposed the gorillas to a lot of poaching. The number of mountain gorillas dwindled so much that about a decade ago less than 800 individuals were left.

Gorilla tourism brought in much needed revenue for conservation. Tourism also brought alternative sources of the income that benefited the communities around the gorilla mountains who depended on the forests through logging, hunting, etc… Would be poachers from the communities have been employed by the growing tourism businesses around the parks such as lodges and tour companies

As a result there has been a turnaround from the dwindling mountain gorilla population to a steadily growing population of mountain gorillas that are currently numbered more than 1000 individuals..

Communities that previously looked at the conservation of gorillas and habitats as threat to their own livelihoods are now champions of protecting the gorillas and their habitats.

Rules to protect the gorillas from effects of gorilla tracking

To minimize the effects of gorilla tracking on the gorillas, such as the risk of transfer of diseases from humans to gorillas the following rules are followed

Keep at least 7 meters from the gorillas

When with the gorillas tourists are advised to keep at least 7 meters from the gorillas. If the gorilla moves closer a person has to keep moving back to maintain this distance. This is way chances of transmitting diseases between gorilla and man are minimized. This distance also protects the gorillas from stress as getting too close would agitate the silverback gorilla and other members. The emotional wellbeing of a gorilla is everything for the gorilla

Sick people are not allowed to track the gorillas

Any person with symptoms of a communicable diseases such as cough, flue, etc.. are not allowed to track the gorillas.

Mandatory wearing of masks

From the covid era wearing a mask has been made mandatory to protect the gorillas from any possibility of spreading the virus to the gorillas. This is in addition to the testing and covid vaccination the tourists were required to go through before being allowed to track the gorillas.

Touching the gorillas is not allowed

Petting and touching the gorillas is totally prohibited. In fact there should not be any physical contact with the gorillas whatsoever.

Do not sneeze in the face of gorillas

If you catch a sneeze, do it when face away from the gorillas. Turn away from the direction of the gorillas and sneeze on the inside of the elbow.

Do not eat around gorillas

Eating around the gorillas is totally prohibited as gorillas can pick leftovers that could spread diseases and also a new diet introduced to the gorillas may cause complication in the gorillas.

Allocating gorilla groups for the trek: here is how to get your best group

Gorilla trekking in Rwanda and Uganda is done in groups of tourists of not more than 8 people per group. Each group not more than 8 tourists is allocated to one gorilla family that they will track down through the mountains and jungles and on getting to the gorillas the tourists will spend one hour following them, enjoying every view of every member of the gorilla of the gorilla family. Adult gorillas are a bit docile, so most times they are observed picking and munching on vegetation. The young gorillas on the other hand a more active and inspiring. While the baby gorillas stay clung to their mothers.

During planning for the gorilla trek tourists ask questions around the gorilla family one will be allocated. The park management does the allocation to gorilla families which is often random, however some certain categories of people, especially the aged shall be allocated to the easier treks.

While the park allocates the groups according to their wish, it is also possible for a guest to request for a type of gorilla depending on the kind of experience they want to have to kind of gorillas they want to see.

So you may want to be allocated to gorilla group basing on the following

Can I get the easiest or hardest gorillas group to trek to?

Elderly persons aged 50+ are given priority for gorilla families that may be easier to trek to. But other people that do not feel ready for a long trek can ask to be allocated to the easiest group.

The gorillas families are found in different areas of the park, and the time taken and level of difficult to find each of the group varies. Some gorillas may be closer to the trailhead and thus easier to trek to.

On the other hand, some people may want a harder challenge to find the gorillas which would also give them more time in the jungle and enjoy seeing more wildlife and great views across the mountain.

I want the best sightings of Silverback Gorillas

Coming face to face with the iconic Silverback Gorilla is one of the best moments of the gorilla trekking adventure. Every gorilla family has at least one silverback gorilla because he is the leader, but some groups have more silverback gorillas. The more the silverback gorillas the better sightings of this massive ape!

Therefore if seeing the silverback gorilla and having as many shots as possible of the gentle giants then you can request for a group with many silverback gorillas. But be ready for any kind of level of difficulty because the with more silverbacks may nearer or far away.

Would like to see the playful young gorillas and cute baby gorillas?

The gorilla family with young gorillas has more fun actions as these youngsters love to entertain with playful antics like provoking the big gorillas, swinging from trees, and even having a cheeky go at the tourists.

If you therefore you want a more fun gorilla family with more activity then request for the one with more young gorillas.

Baby gorillas are so cute but hard to see because they are always held tightly to their mothers bodies. Few gorilla families will have a baby gorilla in the family, so request to be allocated to a group with baby(ies) if want to see these little ones and witness how their mother gorillas passionately cares for them like human mothers do for their babies.

Big gorilla family – Do you want to see many gorillas?

Would you like to see as many gorillas as possible, then request for a gorilla family with a big number of individuals, say 12+ gorilla members. When reach the gorilla family in the jungles, it is impossible to see all the members because some are dispersed around and can be behind bushes so it is difficult to see all the members. Therefore you stand a better chance see many gorillas if you track a group with many members. Some gorillas families can have as many as 20 members, while others can have as few as 8 members.

Is the gorilla trek in Bwindi forest the hardest?

Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is home to the biggest population of gorillas in Uganda, and having more than 10 habituated gorilla families is automatically the destination of choice for gorilla trekking tours in Uganda. It is also the only place for the exclusive gorilla habitation trek which provides a chance to spend more time with the gorillas in a smaller group of people.

The Bwindi gorilla trek is also cheaper than the gorilla trek in Rwanda done in Volcanoes National Park (a part of the Virunga Mountains range shared with Uganda too). However, a number of travelers decide to trek in Rwanda on the assumption or theory that it offers an easier trek than Bwindi.

But how difficult or hard is the trek in Bwindi? We discuss this the level of difficulty of the gorilla trek in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.

Why is it a hard trek in Bwindi forest?

The rugged & steep hills

The park sits on huge rugged hills with many steep hills that are covered in dense forest. What would make the trek hard is that you may have to climb one hill and then another hill to find the gorillas. A beautiful adventure but is more enjoyable if fit

The trek can also be very easy if the gorillas are [located walk] down into the valley from your starting point or

There can be two kinds of people trekking in Bwindi;

  •  one that is disappointed due to a very short trek to the gorillas after preparing for and expecting longer adventurous trek in the jungles,
  •  another that has come back very tired from such a long and arduous trek up and down the hills that they had not prepared for or imagined

The “impenetrable” forest

Bwindi is aptly named “impenetrable” because of the dense forest and vegetation that covers these massive highlands. During the trek the park rangers use a machete to cut the vegetation to create a way to the gorillas.

The thick vegetation can provide some challenges as you may need to occasionally push away branches and shrubs out of the way.

There are also prickly and stinging plants hence you are advised to have garden gloves and long sleeved shirts and long pants.

For the nature lover however, the dense vegetation gives you an opportunity to embed in a true African jungle, feel the closeness to nature like you have never experienced before, and learn about the various plants especially those useful to the gorillas.

Note that some areas of Bwindi forest are more dense than others so you may select a region for the gorilla trek depending on how dense the forest is

Dry season vs wet season

The weather season will also determine how harder your trek in Bwindi National Park will be. Uganda experiences two seasons, the wet season (lots of rain) and dry season (mostly hot with little rain). Trekking during the dry season (June – August & Dec – Feb) is not as hard as trekking during the wet season (March to April, Sept to Nov) because the trails will be dry while the wet season causes slippery trails that will result in a difficult trek.

Sector or part of Bwindi you will be trekking in

Bwindi National Park is made of rolling hills clad with dense forest. However the altitude varies across the highlands and different sectors of the park are more hilly and rugged than others. This implies different parts of the park are known to be more difficult than others.

The level of difficult of the trek may well depend on the sector of Bwindi National Park where you will be trekking to see the gorillas.

Buhoma and Ruhija sectors have relatively easier terrain, and thus may provide easier treks. On the other had the Rushaga and Nkuringo are known to be more hilly and rugged and thus providing more difficult trek.

How to prepare for a difficult gorilla trek in Bwindi forest

Fitness is key: prior fitness preparation is essential for one to be in good enough shape to trek in the highlands.

Sedan chair: a sedan seat is available for hire for the physically challenged and those not feeling strong/fit enough to hike in the mountains.

Take porters: take one or more porters that will carry any of your personal items such as the daypack, freeing you from any extra weight. The porters also provide a push or pull in places you find quite challenging

Walk stick: walking stick is a must! Wooden walking sticks are provided by the park, however you can bring own professional hiking pole for better stability.

Enough drinking water: you will need to carry at least two liters of drinking water and regular drinking will counter altitude sickness. Remember you are trekking in altitude between 1160m – 2607m above sea level.

Did you know these 6 things about Uganda?

Uganda is home to the world’s biggest population of Mountain Gorillas

Uganda is home to the biggest population of the endangered mountain gorillas in the world. Uganda has more than 50% of the remaining roughly 1000 mountain gorillas that are left in the world.

Perhaps it is known by many people that Uganda has gorillas but a lot of people are surprised to find out that Uganda actually has the biggest number of the mountain gorillas which live in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mghinga Gorilla National Park. The mountain gorillas are also found in two other countries, that is, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. You can do the amazing gorilla trekking adventures in all the three countries but Uganda and Rwanda are the more popular option gorilla trekking due to safety

Uganda is a land of kingdoms (kingdoms still survive in Uganda)

Pre-colonial Africa was organized in Kingdoms however with the arrival of colonialists who reorganized the continent into colonial states, and eventually these states gaining independence, the kingdoms were subdued and most demolished by the colonialists and new republics.

Uganda is one of the few countries on the continent that restored the kingdoms. The kingdoms in Uganda however do not have political power, but are fully constituted like the pre-colonial kingdoms with a king and his ruling structure. Even without political power, the kingdoms in Uganda are important custodians of cultural heritage of the tribes.

The biggest kingdom in Uganda is the Buganda Kingdom which also gave the country “Uganda” her name. You can visit Buganda royal tourism circuit to learn about the organization, history, cultures and traditions of the people of Buganda kingdom and Uganda.

Uganda is the most ethnically diverse country in the world

Studies have shown that Uganda is the most ethnically diverse country in the world (source: Uganda has more than 60 indigenous tribes and many foreign groups that have settled into Uganda. This diversity can be seen in hundreds of languages and dialects spoken and the variety of cultures and traditions practiced by different tribes and ethnic groups and communities in Uganda.

Uganda has the best weather in the world

Uganda has perfect weather! Uganda’s weather is warm and wet, that means, the country gets a lot of sunshine and rain. The temperatures average 28oC / 82oF during day and 16oC / 61oF during the night. You can keep off your clothes off during day and night without feeling uncomfortable.

Even with such plenty of sunshine the landscape is lush green throughout the year due to abundant rains.

Uganda has snow near the equator

Yes, Uganda has snow and it is on Mt. Stanley (5109m) in the Rwenzori Mountains. But what is special is Uganda being located along the equator (receiving direct sunshine throughout the year) and then having snow which is a phenomenon.

Uganda is the source of the River Nile

Uganda is the source of the mighty River Nile, the longest river in the world. The Nile starts from the Lake Victoria Africa’s biggest lake, and down the river just after the source a lot travelers indulge in white water rafting and several other thrilling adventures in and along the mighty Nile.

Did you know these 8 things about Rwanda?

Rwanda has been hailed as one of Africa’s biggest successes but did you know the following things about the country?

Rwanda is the safest country in sub Saharan Africa

Rwanda is located in the heart of sub-Saharan Africa, a region thought of an unsafe part of Africa due to the constant reports of conflicts and wars and sometimes epidemics. However, Rwanda has curved out herself as an oasis of safety and peace in this region. The government of Rwanda has built a robust domestic security system that guarantees safety of everyone. Petty crime that is a norm in nearly all modern cities is very uncommon in the Kigali City and all of Rwanda. One can walk the streets of Kigali or visit any remote part of Rwanda without any worry for their safety. Only in Kigali City can you comfortably use your phone on the busy streets without the fear of losing it to a snatcher.

Cleanest country in Africa

If one says Rwanda is the cleanest country in Africa, and one of the cleanest in the world, it may be difficult to believe because African countries are synonymous with disorder and dirt. It is actually difficult to imagine how clean Rwanda is until you have arrived in the capital Kigali City. When you have just arrived in Rwanda via the international airport you will be blown away by how clean and neat the streets of Kigali are. And, it does not end in the city, going deep into the villages of Rwanda the neatness and cleanliness is a constant.

To achieve what seems like a miracle in sub-Sahara Africa Rwanda adopted radical policies such as the banning of plastics bags, and introducing a day of general cleaning called “Umuganda” which is the last Saturday of the month on which every citizen is required to participate in the cleaning of their neighborhood.

There is only one tribe in Rwanda

Africa is a continent of ethnicities and tribes which is perhaps a good thing to see the diverse cultures and traditions of different tribes and traditions existing in every country in Africa. However, for Rwanda, the tribe identification became a tool of division and propagation of hate among the population which culminated into the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi.

Rwanda therefore decided to do away with any identification based on ethnicity and tribe and adopted a singular tribe for all the people which is the Rwandan tribe. If you asked anyone in Rwanda what his or her tribe is, he or she will reply, “I am Rwandan”. Only in Rwanda is the nationality same as tribe!

Rwanda is an open country for all people in the world

Rwanda does not require one to book a visa to visit the country. Anyone can be issued the entry visa on arrival in Rwanda.

Rwanda is home to the famous Big Five animals

Rwanda has not been famous for big game as it is mostly popular for primates especially the mountain gorillas, and chimpanzees and lots of monkeys. Most people visiting Rwanda are expecting to see only the gorillas and monkeys, however Rwanda is now a formidable big game country and provides sightings of all the famous “big five animals”, i.e. lion, leopard, rhino, elephant, buffalo. These and more wildlife is found in Akagera National Park, the country’s only savannah park.

Rwandans speak two international languages

Rwanda is probably the only country in Africa where both English speaking and French speaking visitors will not have much trouble communicating as the two international languages are widely spoken in the country. Both English and French were adopted as official languages of Rwanda. The two language are taught in schools.

It is important to note though, as a former colony of Belgium Rwanda was a francophone and English has only been introduced in the last two decades, so you will find some people may not be fluent in English (the older generation) and some not so fluent in French (the younger generation).

The highest point of Rwanda is Mt. Karisimbi

The highest point in Rwanda is at 4507 meters above sea level on Mt. Karisimbi. Mt. Karisimbi is the highest mountain in the Virunga mountain range. You can see Mt. Karisimbi when you visit Volcanoes National Park and the mountain offers a beautiful 2-day hiking adventure in the Virunga Mountains

Rwanda is the most women-centered country in Africa

No other country (in Africa) puts women at the forefront like Rwanda. This is best seen in the composition of the Rwandan parliament which has 67% women (54 of the 80 slots in parliament are filled with women).

Violence or any kind of harassment against women in Rwanda is one of the cardinal sins you can commit.

Rwanda is home to mountain gorillas

Rwanda is probably most known for the gorillas, but did you know that the country has a third of the world’s mountain gorillas which in live in Volcanoes National Park? Rwanda is also one of the only three countries that have the Mountain Gorillas. Rwanda is arguably the best place to see the do gorilla trekking due to a short journey to the park, the neat roads, safety and availability of many high-end hotels and lodges.