Below are some of the safety questions or concerns that tourists have when deciding to do the gorilla trekking in Uganda.
Won’t the gorillas attack me during the gorilla tracking?
The gorillas are wild animals and like other wild animals their natural instinct of survival is to attack or flee when they feel threatened by another species in their space. And indeed, gorillas being the strongest primate, that the strength of one grown male gorilla is said to be equal to the strength of about 8 energetic male humans, an attack from a gorilla would be fatal.
However, the possibility of being attacked by the gorillas during the watching are very minimal because the gorillas you will track are habituated. Habituation of the gorillas is the process of getting the gorillas to accept humans in their space without seeing them as threats. This is through continuous contact with the gorillas over a long period of time (more than 3 years) until the gorillas notice the humans mean no harm & will begin to feel relaxed in their presence. The habituation is done by trained park personnel.
When you track the gorillas you are in company of park guides who are known by the gorillas and who have been habituating the gorillas. These park guides are able to read the moods of these gorillas & know the characters of each gorilla and shall guide the tourists on how to carry themselves while with the gorillas and advise on what to do in certain situations. The guides also know the different vocalizations of the gorillas and will communicate with the gorillas to make them feel comfortable.
Also, importantly, the gorillas recognize the familiar faces of the park guides and thus will accept the rest of the tourist groups on seeing their ‘friends’ in the group.
Can I be attacked by other wild animals in the jungle during the trek?
There are other wild animals in the jungle other than the gorillas and of course these are not habituated. First of all, you can still find unhabituated gorillas who are aggressive and violent. Elephants, buffaloes, and leopards are plenty in the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (which is the number one gorilla trekking destination in Uganda). However these animals are very hard to encounter because they are shy and naturally flee at the slightest sensing of humans approaching. In most cases you will see only foot prints or droppings, and if lucky may just catch a glimpse of them disappearing into the jungle.
However, an encounter cannot be ruled out completely and once in a while it occurs. So for protection you will be in company of an armed personnel whose first order is to shoot in the air to scare away an animal.
Are the jungles secure from wrong people?
This is a very valid question. Many years ago the jungles were a haven for wrong doers such as criminals hiding from justice, kidnappers, rebels, poachers, etc… In 1999 the most unfortunate of incidents happened and what is the darkest time in the history of gorilla tracking in Uganda, 8 tourists were attacked by rebels while on the trek in Bwindi forest and killed.
However, the jungles of Bwindi have since been pacified of all wrong elements. The armed forces continuously patrol the jungles. Most of the wrong elements sneaked in from the neighboring DR Congo but the Uganda army and security apparatus since established surveillance posts along the border and further created an intelligence & security buffer into the Congo to eliminate any potential threat.
So the jungle is safe and there has not been any incident of an attack on tourists tracking gorillas for the last so many years