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Gorillas in Uganda

Gorillas in  Uganda

Uganda is home to half of the world's population of Mountain Gorillas. Extensive efforts at conservation have led to a number of the families being habituated to human contact.


International Gorilla Conservation Programme (IGCP)

The International Gorilla Conservation Programme, or IGCP, has been working in the entire range of the mountain gorillas, Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congoand Uganda since 1991. IGCP is a coalition of three international conservation organisations: African Wildlife Foundation, Fauna and Flora International and the World Wide Fund for Nature and through this joint effort brings a long-term commitment to the conservation of the mountain gorilla and its afromontane and high altitude forest habitat.

This forest is of great conservation significance, not just for the richness of its biodiversity and its high number of unique species, but for the value the forest has for the welfare of the agricultural people living in this area. The link between wildlife, humans, culture and ecology is inextricable. IGCP strives to protect this area, straddling the borders of Rwanda, Uganda and DR Congo, together with the park authorities of the three countries by developing a framework for colaborative management of this unique ecosystem.

Tourism plays an important role in this framework, by providing sustainable funding for conservation, by developing the economy of the countries and bringing benefits to the local people in the region. The emphasis of sustainable tourism is that it benefits local people as well as wildlife. The development of sound tourism programmes, therefore, is one of the tools for conservation that IGCP is working with local people and the park authorities to implement.

IGCP is working at many levels to ensure conservation of the forest and its wildlife, but it is the emphasis on regional collaboration and protecting the ecosystem as one whole, that provides the keystone for IGCP's programme.
Visit the mountain gorillas and their unique natural habitat and benefit an important conservation and local development programme.

Gorilla Tracking in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest

Trek Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in search of the mountain gorillas. Then proceed to Lake Mburo National Park, An attractive acacia-dotted savannah home to huge herds of impala, as well as uncommon topi, eland, klipspringer and other antelope. Zebra and buffalo also graze these peaceful acres and the lake also supports a wonderful diversity of birds. Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is the last place on earth where you can find the near extinct Mountain Gorillas.

Where as the total number of mountain gorillas in the world is estimated to be between 650 to 700 individuals, Uganda's Bwindi impenetrable forest national park boasts of more than a half. Bwindi in east Africa was and has been the main place of seeing these giant apes during Rwanda's troubled years but these days Parc National des Volcanoes is also drawing visitors in numbers again. Abacus African Vacations a local tour operator has also started taking a good number of visitors to the bordering Congo for other families of gorillas.
Mgahinga National park of Uganda had oneamily habituated gorillas but they have crossed to the other side of the country
So Gorilla safaris to that park are temporarily suspended. If you intend to gorilla tracking safari to Mgahinga National park, seek information from Uganda wild life Authority or get in touch with us for the update.

A minimum of three days are required to visit and track the gorilla. the first day is of driving and the second day is the day of tracking and the third day is for driving again back to Kampala or Entebbe. The Uganda tour operators listed here can give you better tour itineraries for visiting these surviving mountain gorillas. Gorilla Tracking Permits in Uganda:

  • Non residents pay USD 375; East African Residents pay USD 355
  • The cost includes park fees and guides fees
  • The same prices apply to the gorilla tracking permits to Rwanda. While Congo gorilla permit is at USD 340
  • Its strongly advisable to book gorilla permits several months prior to your visit: There are currently four gorilla families habituated for tracking in Bwindi Impenetrable forest national park and these are Mubare(M),Habiyanja(H),Rushegura® and Nkuringo(N)
  • Only 32 tourists per day are allowed to track gorillas. 24 in Bwindi and 8 in Nkuringo gorillas family on the side of Kisolo.
  • Gorilla trekking is the most memorable experience you will ever experience in a life time!! By visiting these wonderful primates,you are giving them a chance to live and you are also supporting the surrounding community.
  • Bwindi Impenetrable forest National park still functions as an important base for international research; biologists come and go, some studying the gorillas, and some focusing on other aspects of the environment and its wildlife.

For further information contact:

Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, P.O.Box 862, Kabale
Tel : 256 486 24121

Uganda Wildlife Authority, P.O.Box 3530, Kampala
Tel : 256 41 346287/8. Fax : 256 41 346291. E mail uwa-...@infocom.co.ug

Uganda Tourist Board, P.O.Box 7211, Kampala
Tel : 256 41 342196/7. Fax : 256 41 342188. www.visituganda.com

Mgahinga Gorilla Tracking

Mgahinga National Park

Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is the smallest park at just 33sq km and it is located in the far south western part of Uganda bordering Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. However this park is one of the most dramatic park, it covers the northern slopes of the three among the six Virunga Volcanoes: Mt. Gahinga (3,474 m), Mt. Muhavura (4,127 m), and Mt. Sabiny (3,645 m). Despite being small in size, Mgahinga national park is of great importance given that it is a home to the endangered mountain Gorillas. This park together with other two parks in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo: i.e. Parc National des Volcans and Parc National des Virunga respectively form the 434-sq. km 'Virunga Conservation Area'. Since Mgahinga is 33.7 sq. km, it is just 8% of the Virunga Conservation Area and the whole park is found in Bufumbira County of Kisoro District. The park’s vegetation is partly forested and the huge cones of the Virunga volcanoes that dominate the landscape contribute to the great scenic view of the area.

Though mountain gorillas form the major attraction to the park, the park also harbors other wildlife which includes 76 mammalian species such as golden monkeys a localized and distinctive race of the Blue Monkeys, Black and White colobus monkey, leopard, forest elephant, and giant forest hogs as well as a number of bird species. The park is also the most scenic park in Uganda, it offers panoramic views that stretch northwards to Bwindi and a southern skyline dominated by the steep volcanic cones of the Virungas, surely one of the most memorable and stirring sights in East Africa.

The park is surrounded by different local communities like the Pygmy Batwa African tribe which tribe in the past lived by hunting and gathering fruits from Bwindi Impenetrable forest. These people were relocated after the park was established to protect the Mountain Gorillas. They now entertain visitors and also sell their handmade crafts as souvenirs.

Accommodation

Travelers Rest . This is a well-known hotel amongst gorilla experts for it was once known as the unofficial gorilla headquarters. This was because in the mid-1950's the game warden, Walter Baumgartel, self styled ‘King of the Gorillas', was also the owner of the Travelers Rest. He was one of the first people to take an interest in gorillas and their protection. Amongst the scientists who stayed here were Diane Fossey and George Schaller and it became a center for primate experts from around the world. Baumgartel left Uganda in the late 1960's and the hotel was later taken over by the Uganda Hotels Corporation. Although rather run down it has plenty of charm and is a most agreeable place to stay. It's now owned by a local Ugandan, and it is to be hoped its atmosphere will be retained.

For Bwindi there are basic bandas at Buhoma and 3 privately run campsites near the park along with some more upmarket tented camps.
At Mgahinga there are 2 privately run campsites near the park gates and Volcanoes tour operator runs Mount Mgahinga Rest Camp at the edge of the park.
Otherwise the closest accommodation for Mgahinga is at Kisoro or Kabale.

Transport

Road There are matatus to Kabale occasionally throughout the day There are matatus to the Rwanda border to cross to Ruhengeri, taking about 3 hrs, a more scenic route and it is said that this is the most beautiful part of Uganda.

A Day In The Life Of a Gorilla
Gorillas get up at about 0600. However, if it is cloudy (and it mostly is in the Virunga Mountains) they sleep in. They are slow starters, and it takes them a while to get going on the main business of the day, which is food. There are over 100 edible plants in the mountains, but they are fussy eaters, and turn up their somewhat flattened noses at all but 29. Some of their preferred delicacies, such as stinging nettles, are not that popular with other mountain creatures. They don't drink and rely on the plants for fluid intake. In fact they don't much care for water at all, and will never cross-rivers or streams.

Gorillas are fairly sociable and like to hang out in a gang of around a dozen, but it might be as few as a couple or as many as 30. The boss is a silverback, an adult male whose coat has gone grey across the back. He will weigh around 180 kilos (400 pounds, over 28 stones), with the females half his size. The other males are allowed to stay in the group only at the indulgence of the silverback.

Around 0800, the whole entourage is usually on the move, trailing behind the silverback as he browses leisurely from plant to plant, covering a kilometer in about 7 hrs. At 10.00 they knock off for a break, doze a bit, and the kids romp around. Communication is through a range of sounds, gestures, and facial expressions. The females sometimes squabble among themselves. The silverback is intimidating enough when roused to ensure that the gorillas have no enemies among the mountain creatures. When aggravated, the silverback starts hooting, draws himself up to his full height, beats his chest loudly, roars, screams, bares his teeth and charges. He winds down after this exertion by beating the ground with his fists. After about 4 hrs of relaxation they get under way again, pressing on a bit more in the afternoon, finally calling it a day around 1700. They mooch around for about an hour until the silverback decides to hit the sack, breaking off a few leafy fronds, which he flattens to make a bed. The rest get themselves organized in the same way, some making nests in the trees. Lights out at around 1800.

Bwindi gorilla visit

Early in the morning, the day we were to go gorilla tracking, I awoke to a dawn chorus of birds and monkeys echoing across the forest valley to our camp. Opening my tent I watched as the mist lifted from the trees and the forest came to life. After struggling to get our fire going we had quick breakfast and then set off. We were introduced to our Ugandan guide for the day who explained some of the rules of the park such as no smoking, eating or drinking once we reached the gorillas. More disconcertingly he then went on to explain what to do in the event of a silverback charging us. Above all, we were told, we must stay still, crouch down and keep our heads down. We should at all times follow his instructions while he and the 2 trackers would speak in gorilla language to reassure the boss of the group that we were friends not foes.

The first part of the walk was the easiest, being along a sunlit path decorated by scores of dancing butterflies. About 45 minuses into the forest we turned off this and the hard walking began. From here it was about 21/s hrs up and down the steep valley sides ascending, we pulled ourselves up with the help of nearby trees and on the way down slid most of the way on our backsides. We traversed 3 valleys before we reached the place where the gorillas had spent the previous night. This spot is marked by the nests of branches and leaves that the gorillas make for themselves and huge piles of dung. From here the trackers hacked through the thick bush following the trail of the gorillas. Occasionally the pungent sweetness of jasmine descended. Everywhere cicadas hummed punctuated occasionally by the haunting shrieks of chimps. We tried to spot them in the trees around but in vain. Suddenly the trackers sped—we are very close, they told us, so this was the last chance for a drink and a snack.

After this rest we walked on the atmosphere changed as we realized we were so close. About 15 minutes later we suddenly heard a loud grunt it sounded very close and my heart missed a beat but, peering through the bush, I could see nothing. The grunting continued I would have sworn it was less than a meter away but the bush was so thick that still I could see nothing. Our guide started to reply to the gorilla making a deep coughing noise and we slowly crept around keeping a fair distance away from the source of the grunting. Peering into deep green vegetation, I could see nothing. Suddenly I caught sight of an enormous hand reaching up from ground level to pluck a green shoot. At the end of the arm was the face of a female sitting with her young close by. She was staring at us but was remarkably unconcerned at our presence as she continued to eat her meal. As we watched our eyes were drawn upwards to the sounds of two infants playing in the trees they were absolutely delightful as they clambered up the branches and pushed each other down again. We still hadn't seen the silverback, but knew where he was, as he was the source of the deep grunts. Slowly he emerged from the bushes, familiar from films and photographs, but in the flesh he was quite awe-inspiring. Everything about him was bigger than I'd imagined and as he moved through the undergrowth it collapsed around him. We stayed with the family group for about an hour before returning to our camp, thoroughly delighted with the experience. The route back was more direct but a downpour slowed our progress. I had always been led to believe that in a rainforest the tree canopy overhead prevents most of the rain reaching the forest floor but it soon became clear this was not so. I put on a raincoat but within minutes the warm and heavy rain had soaked through it. As we left the forest the rain sped almost immediately, and we returned dripping to the camp for a cup of hot coffee.

Last Updated on Tuesday 2nd March 2010

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