There’s something magical about seeing eye-to-eye with a silverback mountain gorilla. Such an encounter has to be experienced first-hand to truly understand the gravitas of the situation; being in close proximity to an endangered, vulnerable creature that shares so many traits with us, but is also capable of such brute strength.
Their subtle behaviours and interactions with one another are fascinating, and if you come across a troop of mountain gorillas while visiting Rwanda, there’s nothing that can quite top it.
That’s why we believe that gorilla trekking in Rwanda should be moved to the very top of your travel list!
Here’s just a taste of what you can expect from the human-like behaviours of the mountain gorillas you encounter and how to plan for your adventure in Rwanda. Follow in the footsteps of the great wildlife experts, Dian Fossey and David Attenborough, and get to know the mountain gorillas a little better.
Insane (But True) Facts About Gorillas In Rwanda
• Gorillas share approximately 97% of their biology with humans. The other 3% is shared with their cousins; orangutans, chimpanzees and bonobos.
• Almost half of the globe’s mountain gorilla population lives in the Virunga Mountains at the intersection of Uganda, Rwanda and the Congo. That’s approximately 350 in this part of Central Africa.
• Mountain gorillas are generally larger and stockier than their lowland brothers and sisters. And they also tend to have a wider jaw, longer hair, and shorter arms.
• In the early 20s, German officer, Oscar Von Beringe, was allegedly one of the first Europeans to come across the mountain gorillas of Rwanda. Following his encounter he decided to help preserve the creatures’ habitat, persuading the Belgian government to introduce Africa’s first protected area.
• Mountain gorillas of Africa are as shy as they are strong. With a tendency to attack only when provoked, you can face a gorilla without fear of them chasing you (so long as you don’t pose a threat to them or the rest of their troop).
Interested in learning more about the habitat and conservation of the mountain gorillas of Rwanda? Take a look at the work being done by the team at the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International and watch ‘Hope’, a film made in partnership with the charity and David Attenborough.
“Virungas national park is a dramatic chain of seven misty volcanoes, with a rich mosaic of mountain ecosystems and bamboo forests that open onto vast verdant grasslands. Apart from tracking mountain gorillas there are also a variety of other activities, including tracking the golden monkeys, climbing one of the Virunga volcanoes or visiting the remains of the Dian Fossey Research Centre, where pioneering research in gorilla behaviour was conducted in their natural habitat.”
Wild Frontiers Travel
Our Top Tips For Planning Your Rwanda Gorilla Safari
If you’re just starting to plan your trip to Rwanda, here are a few tips to help you get the very best out of your unique opportunity to interact with the mountain gorillas in the Volcanoes National Park.
Practise good wildlife etiquette
Remember that you’re coming into the gorillas’ habitat and should respect their behaviour at all times. Your guide will give you advice before you head off, but it pays to remember the warning signs that the gorillas are becoming agitated or threatened. Keep in mind the following advice when you’re near the gorillas:
• Don’t turn and run away from a gorilla that approaches you. If they come close, remember to remain in a submissive position by crouching or sitting down.
• Don’t get too close. With any luck, you will be within metres of the troop of gorillas. However don’t push this – wait for them to come to you if they feel comfortable.
• Communicate with the gorillas. While you’re close to the gorillas you can make a friendly grunting sound to show them that you are a friend. Your guide should be able to show you this so that you can communicate with them effectively.
• Don’t go on the gorilla trek if you’re ill. Feeling unwell before you head out? Postpone your trek until you’re feeling better. Gorillas can be susceptible to human illnesses such as flu, and even colds can be harmful to them.
Swot up on the gorilla troops you’re likely to come across
Depending on the gorilla tracking trek you’re with, you may have the option of seeing a particular troop. Trawl the internet before you leave and get to know the specific groups of gorillas that are native to Rwanda. That way, you may get to decide which group you see. The main advantage of this? Getting to see the groups that have just had babies born into their group!
Make sure you’re camera ready
Before you pack your DSLR, make sure you have a camera set up that will work just as well without flash. Flash photography is generally not allowed on organised gorilla safaris so make sure you’ve disabled any automatic flash, and that you’re happy with the lens you can take with you on the trek. Remember that in low forest light you’ll need to compensate for underexposure with a higher ISO speed.
What to wear gorilla trekking in Rwanda
Due to the humidity and wet weather of the Virunga mountains, it pays to be prepared for what lies ahead on your gorilla trekking experience. With wet, muddy conditions almost guaranteed, you’ll absolutely need a sturdy pair of walking boots.
For additional protection against biting insects and stinging nettles, stay covered from head to toe in light layers. Waterproof walking trousers are ideal and light base layers along with a lightweight waterproof jacket will help you stay comfy and protected as you move through the forest, closer to the reason you hopped on a plane in the first place – a real face-to-face experience with the mountain gorillas of Rwanda!