Gorilla Habituation Experience in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest Uganda.

Gorilla Habituation Experience in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest Uganda.

February 26, 2024
News Journeys Uganda

Gorilla Habituation Experience in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest Uganda: The ancient impenetrable forest is mainly famous for the presence of the Gorillas and Gorilla trekking which is the most popular adventure in the park.  In January 2014, the Uganda Wildlife Authority which is the body responsible for the governing and management of game parks in Uganda introduced Gorilla habituation as a new tourist activity at the game park. Habituation of Gorillas can be described as the process of getting Gorillas used to the sight and presence of human beings.  So, a Gorilla Habituation experience involves a visitor or tourist taking part in the process of getting gorilla families used to the sight and presence of human beings. This unique activity only takes place in Uganda among the three countries with Mountain Gorilla populations. It only takes place in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Rushaga and Nkuringo sectors.

The main difference between Gorilla trekking and gorilla habituation as tourist activities is the cost and time spent with the gentle giants. Gorilla Habituation only takes place in the southern part of the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest known as the Rushaga sector. Habituation of these Gorillas takes from 2-5 years for the giant Ape family to get comfortably used to the presence and sight of people. This process involves different types of experts including conservationists, researchers, trackers, and rangers. As opposed to Gorilla trekking which restricts its number to 8 visitors per day, The Gorilla Habituation experience further restricts the number to 4 visitors. Also, the Gorilla Habituation experience takes place for 4 long hours excluding the time spent searching for them, unlike the Gorilla Trekking experience which lasts one hour.

Usually, the journey begins from the Rushaga visitor center and a thorough briefing and orientation, led by an expert tracker and ranger to locate the mountain Gorillas and the safety of the tourists, and a researcher. Normally, the experience involves a long walk to the middle of the forest before the habituation process of Gorillas commences. During the habituation experience, one should keenly follow the rules and regulations of the tour guide for example keeping 7 – 8 meters away from the Gorillas always.  Also, be keen to monitor and watch how the experts habituate the giant Apes for example, imitating gorilla behaviors like mimicking their vocals, walking on knuckles just like they move, chewing on vegetation.  For 4 long hours, visitors shall be involved in observing and learning how Gorilla behaviors adapt to the sight and occurrence of human beings. Other activities like photography can take place while excluding the flashlight as this is not allowed during the Gorilla habituation experience.

Mountain Gorilla feeding

Currently, Uganda has 37 gorilla families and only 19 families are fully habituated and are free around people. 2 Gorilla families are still undergoing habituation in the Rushaga sector of the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. The Gorilla families include Habinyanja which consists of 17 members with 2 silverbacks which are located in the Buhoma-Karoro-Rubina, Mubare located in Buhoma with 9 individuals including 1 silverback, and Rushegura found north of the game park in Buhoma. The Buhoma sector has  newly habituated Gorilla families which  include the Katwe family consisting of 10 individuals with 1 silverback, and 2 blackbacks, the Munyindo Gorilla family and Muyambi are also located in the Buhoma sector. In the Far East in Ruhija, the gorilla families include, Kyaguriro with 15 individuals and 2 silverbacks, Bitukura family with 14 individuals and 4 silverbacks, and Oruzogo Gorilla family with 25 individuals with 2 silverbacks ,Happy gorilla family and the Mukiza Gorilla family that broke off from Kyaguriro is also located in the Ruhija sector. In the southern part of the park and forested Rushaga has families like Mishaya with 12 apes and 1 silverback, Bweza consisting of 9 individuals with 1 silverback, Nshonji with 26 individuals and 4 silverbacks, Busingye with 9 gorillas and 1 silverback, Kahunje consisting of 13 individuals with 3 silverbacks, Mucunguzi family with 8 individuals broke off from the Bweza family, Kutu gorilla family consisting of 8 members and 1 silverback, Bikingi gorilla family with 12 gorillas, Tindatine family consisting of 13 gorillas led by a dominant silverback Mugisha and the Rwigi gorilla family that broke away from the Kahunje family. The famous Nkuringo group located in the Nkuringo region of Bwindi Forest consisting of 19 individuals with 2 silverbacks. Other gorilla families in Nkuringo sector of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest are Posho gorilla family, Bushaho gorilla family and the Christmas gorilla family. However, it’s in Rushaga where we have the current two families under habituation, and it’s these two that are tracked down during the current Gorilla habituation process in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.

The Gorilla Habituation Experience involves tourists getting a deeper understanding of Gorilla behaviors to the point of naming the different Gorillas and the nests of the different Gorillas, Gorilla nests can be identified by trackers and rangers who usually tell from the size of nests or to look for silver hairs in the nest in search of a silverback or to know whether its young or an adult Gorilla. At the end of this breathtaking experience, tourists are awarded a certificate of participation in the habituation of Mountain Gorillas. The Gorillas are also assessed to notice and study their progress in getting used to the sight of people.

How much does it cost to carry out Gorilla Habituation in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park?

This exciting and unique activity is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, unlike the Gorilla Trekking permit which costs USD 700, the Gorilla Habituation permit costs USD 1500. This is expensive because Gorilla Trekking and Habituation are the primary revenue sources for the continued support and conservation of the mountain Gorillas and your support is extremely important for conservation.

What should one carry/need when going for a Gorilla Habituation experience?

One should note that he/she needs a moderate level of fitness as this activity involves treks over rocky, steep, and slippery trails that are on high altitudes in the quest for Mountain Gorillas. Furthermore, one should carry waterproof hiking boots with thick stockings to avoid blisters due to walking, jackets, hats, sunglasses, binoculars and a camera are also advised.

What is the best time to carry out Gorilla Habituation in Bwindi?

The most favorable time to visit the park is from June to August and December to February because these are dry seasons. Although, Gorilla Habituation can be carried out at any time year-round. Temperatures in the park range between 20-25 degrees throughout the year.

How to get there?

The park can be accessed by both Air and Road means of transportation. By Road, it is a 2-3 hours drive from Queen Elizabeth National Park and a 8-10 hours drive from Kampala the Capital city of Uganda. A 4×4 vehicle is needed during the rainy season. By air, travelers can choose to fly from either Kajjansi Airfield or Entebbe International Airport to one of the 3 airstrips around Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. These include Kisoro Airstrip, which is the closiest to Rushaga, Kihihi Airfield, and the Kayonza Airfield north of the national park.