Read more about: Mountain Gorilla Trekking in Uganda
With less than 800 left in the wild, the mountain gorillas of Africa are critically endangered. Uganda provides refuge to half of these. Groups of mountain gorillas are also found in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Lowland gorillas fare a little better, but barely so. There are an estimated 3,000 eastern lowland gorillas and 90,000 western lowland gorillas inhabiting just a few small areas across Central and East Africa.
Above: Mountain Siverback Gorilla and family (left) | Crucial Causes (click to select) | Western Lowland Siverback Gorilla (right)
In total, that's less than the human population typically found within a few city blocks of just one of the many thousands of cities scattered around the world.
Once feared by early explorers, gorillas are in fact not aggressive, unless they perceive their family group to be under threat. We humans are a far greater threat to their survival in Africa, through habitat loss, poaching and disease.
In physical size, gorillas are the largest living species of primates. They are ground dwelling and are primarily herbivores. When first discovered, gorillas were classified as a single species. However they are now classified into two species and four sub species according to geographical location and physical characteristics. Three of these four subspecies are critically endangered.
Gorillas live in extended family groups led by a dominant silverback male, and are highly sociable with strong bonds between group members.
Today's eco tourists have the opportunity to view these magnificent animals in the wild.
Access by tourists is strictly controlled to ensure minimal impact to the gorillas and their habitats. Tourists have to be in good health and must be accompanied by official guides. Permits are essential and need to be purchased in advance - often several months in advance, since they are in limited supply and soon sell out.
In Uganda, visitors track habituated gorilla families in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, offering maximum protection to the gorillas and their habitat. Gorilla tracking is also offered in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, within the Virunga Volcanoes region.
In Rwanda and the DRC, gorilla tracking is available in the montane cloud forests of the Virunga Volcanoes (Parcs de Volcans and Virunga National Park).
Mountain Gorilla Family in Rwanda
Tracking lowland gorillas can result in variable success, since they are fast moving and elusive. The Republic of Congo and Central Africa Republic (CAR) provide the greatest chance of success, where opportunity is provided to track habituated lowland gorillas.
Langoue Bai (bai: a forest clearing) in the heart of Gabon's rainforest offers the chance to view gorillas from a viewing platform at the edge of the 1 km long forest clearing. The gorillas can be observed alongside forest elephants, buffalo and other wildlife. Sightings are variable and are dependent on local conditions and the season.
The first recorded account of explorers encountering gorillas in equatorial Africa dates back 2500 years to a Carthage explorer, Hanno the Navigator. However, it wasn't until the 16th century that western explorers would again encounter the lowland gorilla. Early reports described it as a ferocious and bloodthirsty beast - a myth that would persist until deep into the 20th century. Research and writings by George Schaller (1959: The Year of the Gorilla) and Dian Fossey (1983: Gorillas in the Mist) finally dispelled this belief.
Although gentle in nature, gorillas are huge, exceptionally strong and will defend their family groups against threats or perceived threats. This can be an intimidating (chest beating and charging) and potentially dangerous to the tourist on a gorilla trek, so it's crucial for tourists to strictly follow the advice of park guides. Gorilla trekking etiquette includes:
The Western Gorilla has two subspecies:
The Eastern Gorilla has two subspecies:
All gorilla subspecies are also differentiated by their varying habitats.
International conservation efforts and ecotourism provide a double edged sword in the fight to protect this critically endangered species. Ecotourism park permits help to finance the rangers and staff that protect the parks. Tourism dollars spent within the region on accommodation, meals, guides and souvenirs provide local employment opportunities and local income, but also the vital perception among locals that the wildlife resources are far more valuable alive.
Protecting the gorillas from extinction is not just a concern for Africa. Their ultimate loss will be felt by us all and by countless generations in the future.A Gorilla Safari is a great adventure too. Why not add gorilla trekking to your bucket list?
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