Gorilla Trekking Etiquette

As the number of mountain gorillas increases, tourists have been made to understand that these creatures have to be conserved so that their number continues growing. Mountain Gorillas are one of the critically endangered primates in the world. In the past these Gorillas were considerably affected by poaching that posed a threat to their survival. If you have watched the “gorillas in the mist” film, you will see the heart-wrenching predicament that these animals living in the Jungles go through.

In the wake of life of these magnificent primates being threatened, several actions have to be implemented to reduce on factors that endanger their lives. This is why several efforts by conservationists and the concerned Governments were increased to save them from becoming extinct. One of the efforts towards saving these critically endangered primates is enacting guidelines that govern them and tracking. These are classified into what to wear for gorilla trekking, guidelines to follow before setting off, rules to follow while on the way to the mountain gorillas, when with the mountain gorillas and health guidelines to be followed by trekkers. These rules or guidelines exist to make your trek/hike in Uganda and Rwanda more pleasurable.

Before setting off for gorilla trekking

Before you set off for gorilla trekking, make sure you have your gorilla permit with you to avoid being disappointed from participating in this riveting activity.

Tourists should make sure that they are of age i.e. at least 15 years and above. This is the recommended age for a tourist to be allowed to track gorillas.

Make sure to carry a walking stick, camera and have dressed for the long awaited occasion.

Also ensure that you are physically fit because gorilla trekking involves hiking to areas of higher elevations. However, it should be noted that you don’t really need to be an athlete to be able to hike through the jungles of Bwindi, Mgahinga or Volcanoes. You just need a general fitness to avoid being disturbed by the challenging terrain. Also the speed during the trek is usually slow and involves breaks where necessary. The elderly can be assigned to groups that are easier to track while those that are physically fit can be assigned to groups that are on raised slopes hence need some level of physical fitness for example Susa A in Volcanoes National Park and those in Rushaga sector of Bwindi National Park.

Before the trek begins, report to the Park headquarters/briefing camp for orientation/briefing on what to do or not to do while trekking the gorillas. This is applicable to both Uganda and Rwanda. You will then be assigned to a gorilla group, but most times depends on your preference (whether you need those that are on higher elevations of those that are not).

Due to the genetic similarity between Mountain gorillas and humans (share at least 98% of DNA), the former are vulnerable to many diseases that affect humans. Make sure when you are going to visit them you are free from respiratory infections and communicable diseases especially colds or flue, tuberculosis, measles and cough. This reduces on the risks of spreading these diseases.

Also, before you start this activity, first wash your hand so that you get rid of possible germs that can risk or pose a health threat to the mountain gorillas.

Only one tourist group of 8 persons are permitted to visit a gorilla group per day. This applies to both Rwanda and Uganda. This is done to avoid stressing or emotionally disturbing them and also reduces the risks of these animals catching human diseases.

On the way to mountain gorillas/the process of trekking in Uganda and Rwanda

Usually gorilla trekking starts by tourists being taken to the location where the guides sighted the mountain gorilla group the previous day. Usually a team of trackers goes ahead of you to sight where the gorilla group is, and then you will straight away follow that particular trail to get them.

Pack it in, pack it out. Do not throw rubbish within the Park but instead keep it in your bag and throw in dustbins when you finish the day’s trek. Careless disposal of waste is being irresponsible, spoils the environment for the next tourists and pollutes the Park environment.

As you are hiking/trekking, do not make noise (keep your conversations low) or rather keep quiet because noise may scare away some of the bird and wildlife species that you are likely to encounter in the jungle. When you are almost approaching the gorilla family, the tour guide informs you to get ready for the exciting moment you have all been yearning for.

When with the mountain gorillas.

When you find the mountain gorillas, maintain a distance of 7 meters away from them in order to protect them from human diseases because they are very susceptible to diseases like flue, cough, diarrhea and measles among others.

Also avoid touching them because they are wild animals and may become aggressive no matter how shy and gentle they are considered to be.

If these animals approach you, you have to slowly move away or act acquiescent and crouch down but do not run away.

You are supposed to spend only one hour with them as a precautionary means to protect these creatures from long hours of human encounter. Your maximum satisfaction starts when the clock starts ticking. However, your time might be cut short if the mountain gorillas become perturbed or anxious.

Always keep in your group to prevent confusion that may arise among the mountain gorillas.

Avoid eating, drinking and smoking while in the presence of the mountain gorillas.

Keep your voices low until you are out of their range (at least 200 meters away) because noise scares the mountain gorillas or makes them to be aggressive.

If you need to cough or sneeze, turn and cover your mouth away from the mountain gorillas to avoid spreading germs to them. You can also use a handkerchief.

Do not stare in the eyes of the mountain gorillas (avoid direct eye contact). This may be perceived as a confrontation. Even when they charge, just submit by avoiding direct eye contact.

Avoid using flash cameras because they scare the gorillas, and make sure to take the photos cautiously not to disrupt the mountain gorillas and interfere with other gorilla trekkers who would also wish to take photographs.

General health guidelines

There are some health rules and regulations that exist because mountain gorillas are vulnerable to human diseases. These include;

If you realize that you are sick (suffering from cough, flue or diarrhea) before trekking, inform the park ranger and you will get out of the group of those going for gorilla trekking. The warden of the Park will ascertain if indeed you are sick then your money will be refunded or they can arrange an alternative day so that you fulfill your dream of seeing the mountain gorillas.

There are no toilets in the middle of the jungles. So if you require to ease yourself (defecate) while trekking, speak to the tour guide who will dig a hole of at least 30 centimeters using his panga after which will be covered when you finish using it.

Turn your mouth from the mountain gorillas if you need to blow your nose, cough or sneeze to reduce on the risk of transmitting germs to them.

In conclusion, due to the high demand of the mountain gorillas and yet they are critically endangered species, several trekking rules and regulations exist to make tourists comfortable but as the same time ensuring the conservation of these Giant Apes for the future tourists. Once tourists follow these guidelines, the will be able to achieve your dreams and have a memorable experience.