History on Mountain Gorillas
Mountain Gorillas are the largest species of primates. They are ground-dwelling, predominantly herbivorous apes that inhabit the forests of East and central Africa.
The DNA of gorillas is highly similar to that of humans, about 95–99% depending on what is counted, and they are the next closest living relatives to humans after the bonobo and chimpanzee.
The closest relatives of gorillas are chimpanzees and humans, all of the Hominidae having diverged from a common ancestor about 7 million years ago
The first systematic study about Gorillas was not conducted until the 1920s, when Carl Akeley of the American Museum of Natural History traveled to Africa.
After World War II, George Schaller was one of the first researchers to go into the field and study primates. In 1959, he conducted a systematic study of the mountain gorilla in the wild and published his work.
Years later, Dian Fossey conducted a much longer and more comprehensive study of the mountain gorilla.
It was not until Dian Fossey published her work that many misconceptions and myths about gorillas were finally disproved, including the myth that gorillas are violent.
Until recently there was considered to be a single gorilla species, with three sub species: the western lowland gorilla, the eastern lowland gorilla and the mountain gorilla. There is now agreement that there are two species with two sub-species each. More recently it has been claimed that a third sub species exists in one of the species. The separate species and sub-species developed from a single type of gorilla during the Ice Age, when their forest habitats shrank and became isolated from each other.
A gorilla’s day is synchronized, divided between rest periods and travel or feeding periods. There are dietary differences between and within species. Mountain gorillas mostly eat foliage such as leaves, stems, pith, and shoots while fruit makes up a very small part of their diet. They primarily eat bamboo.
Easten lowland gorillas have a more diverse diet which varies seasonally. Leaves and pith are commonly eaten but fruits can make up as much as 25% of their diet. Gorillas rarely drink water “because they consume succulent vegetation that is comprised of almost half water as well as morning dew”, although both mountain and lowland gorillas have been observed drinking.
Gorillas live in groups called troops. Troops tend to be made of one adult male or silverback, multiple adult females and their offspring.
However, multi-male troops also exist. Silverbacks are typically more than 12 years of age and named for the distinctive patch of silver hair on their back which comes with maturity.
The silverback is the center of the troop’s attention, making all the decisions, mediating conflicts, determining the movements of the group, leading the others to feeding sites and taking responsibility for the safety and well-being of the troop. Younger males subordinate to the silverback, known as blackbacks, may serve as backup protection. Blackbacks are aged between 8 and 12 years of age and lack the silver back hair.
Gorillas construct nests for daytime and night use. Nests tend to be simple aggregations of branches and leaves about 2 to 5 feet in diameter and are constructed by individuals. Gorillas, unlike chimpanzees or orangutans, tend to sleep in nests on the ground. The young nest with the mother but construct nests after three years of age, initially close to that of their mother. A gorilla’s lifespan is between 35–40 years, although zoo gorillas may live for 50 years and more. Gorilla tracking is considered more safe in Uganda and Rwanda though the DR Congo is slowly gaining a secure situation to track gorillas.
Guidelines for Mountain Gorilla Tracking in Uganda or Rwanda
If you are planning to do a gorilla tour in Uganda or Rwanda soon; it is good to have an idea of the rules that apply when finally gorilla trekking in the forest and more so when you encounter the mountain gorillas
Group sizes of Gorilla Trackers
A maximum number of 8 visitors may visit a group of habituated mountain gorillas in a day. This minimizes behavioral disturbance to the gorillas and the risk of their exposure to human-borne diseases. Always wash your hands before you head out to the gorillas.
On the way to the Gorillas:
-It is advisable to keep your voices low when trekking in search for mountain gorillas. Enjoy lots of wildlife and bird life in the forest.
-YOU SHOULD NOT leave rubbish in the park. Whatever you bring into the forest should be carried out by you.
You will be taken to where the guides observed the gorillas the day before. From there you will follow the trail to locate the gorillas. Watch out for Gorilla nests along the way!
When you are with the gorillas:
-Maintain a 7 meter (21 feet) distance from the gorillas. The further back you are, the more relaxed the group will be. Animals usually feel insecure when you get nearer to their safe zone
-Keep close in a group when near the gorillas.
-Keep your voices low, it is allowed to ask questions to your guide.
-Smoking, eats and drinking are not allowed when with the Gorillas to reduce the risk of transmitting human diseases to gorillas
-Sometimes gorillas can charge. Follow the guides example (crouch down slowly, do not look the gorillas directly in the eyes and wait for the animals to pass). Do not attempt to run away because that will increase the risk.
-Photography is limited! When taking pictures move slowly and carefully.
-Don’t touch gorillas – remember they are wild animals
-The maximum allowed time with gorillas is one hour. However, if the gorillas become agitated or nervous, the guide will finish the visit early. -After the visit keep your voices down until you are 200 meters away from the gorillas.
General health rules:
Mountain gorillas are very prone to human diseases. Observe the following rules to limit your health risks to gorillas:
-Respect the limits imposed on the number of visitors allowed with the gorillas each day. This minimizes the risk of disease transmission and stress to the group.
-If you are feeling ill, or you are carrying a contagious disease, volunteer to stay behind. An alternate visit will be arranged for you, or you will be refunded your money.
-If you feel the urge to cough or sneeze when you are near the gorillas, please turn your head away and cover your nose and mouth in order to minimize the spread of bacteria or viruses.
-Always stay 7 meters (21 feet) away from the gorillas. This is to protect them from catching human diseases.
-Do not leave any rubbish (eg. food wrappers) in the park; foreign items can harbor diseases or other contaminants.
-If you need to go to the toilet while in the forest, please ask the guide to dig you a hole with his Panga. Make sure the hole is 30 cm deep and fill it in when you are finished.
What to Carry on your Gorilla Safari:
– Wear comfortable hiking shoes suitable for steep muddy slopes.
– Put on ear plugs for those who feel uncomfortable with the jungle sounds.
– Carry a packed lunch and enough drinking water.
– Carry rain gear, sunscreen lotion, a hat (as the weather is unpredictable) and insect repellent.
-Turnoff your flash light when using shooting photos
How to book a gorilla Permit
A Gorilla permit is required to track Gorillas in any of the Gorilla parks. Gorilla permits so often sell-out one needs to reserve their permit in advance to go Gorilla trekking at least 4 months in advance. It is smart to remit payment for your Gorilla permit as soon as possible because it gives us ample time to process your permit and make excellent travel arrangements for you.
Buying a Gorilla permit doesn’t guarantee seeing gorillas. Unlike earlier days when it was so tiring to find Gorillas, today it is easy to see and have a wonderful wildlife experience with the Gorillas because Gorilla families have become accustomed to humans and also an advance team is sent to identify the location of the Gorillas prior to your trek making it fairly easy to see the Gorillas.
In Uganda the Gorilla permits are officially sold by the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) and a gorilla permit in Uganda costs USD600 per day per person for foreign non- residents. You can get the permits in Kampala at the Uganda Wildlife Authority headquarters. We process your Gorilla permit at no extra cost and have not experienced any trouble regarding booking of Gorilla permits in Uganda. Rest assured to get a genuine Gorilla permit with our team.
A gorilla permit in Rwanda costs $1500 while the cost in Congo is $400. Gorilla permits in Uganda lower to $450 in the low season period for months of April, May and November.