are mountain gorillas dangerous

Are mountain gorillas dangerous?

Are mountain gorillas dangerous? This is one of the most common questions asked by several travellers especially those who wish to visit these rare primates which are found in the Virunga Mountains of Rwanda, Uganda and DR Congo. Well, here we attempt to answer this question using real experience, published research and to throw more light on mountain gorillas in general as well as gorilla tourism. 

Early published research about mountain gorillas 

Mountain gorillas were nicknamed as ‘gentle giants’ by Dr. George Schaller, the first American zoologist to study the ecology and behaviour of mountain gorillas in Virunga mountains in 1959. He published his findings in the book titled The Mountain Gorilla: Ecology and Behavior. According to his description, gorillas are strong animals yet calm, shy, and aren’t likely to harm humans if not provoked.

Schaller’s study was followed by Dian Fossey’s, who established the first gorilla research center in Volcanoes national park in 1967 and spent 18 years studying gorillas until her fatal murder in 1985. Fossey introduced habituation of gorillas for tourism and anti-poaching patrols to protect them from poaching. According to Rwandan historical archives, she habituated the Susa gorilla family, one of the 10 groups in Rwanda. She formed close bonds with the gorillas and observed a male gorilla grow and mature into an adult silverback named Digit. Fossey described Digit as gentle, trusting, curious, and playful. Those intending to understand the story of Dian can watch the National Geographic Channel three-part series: Secrets in the Mist. 

How mountain gorillas interact with humans in the wild 

Many gorilla groups have been habituated for tourism and are accustomed to the presence of humans. For instance, the juveniles and infants are the most playful members in a gorilla family. They tend to be inquisitive about their surroundings and in some cases they may try to touch or brush past visitors during the gorilla viewing sessions. The dominant silverback is always observant and on guard of its family against intruders. Getting too close or touching the gorilla can threaten its dominance and prompt an aggressive charge in self-defense.

Under what circumstances can mountain gorillas become dangerous?

are mountain gorillas dangerous

A Silverback gorilla weighs up to 430 pounds and stands 6 feet tall, making it almost 20 times stronger than a human being. Both male and female gorillas can sometimes charge at visitors when they feel threatened. Getting so close to gorillas and an attempt to touch an infant gorilla may be interpreted as a threat or an attack by the mature gorillas. When a gorilla charges, it usually makes aggressive grunts, chest thumps, pulling of vegetation while moving towards the person.

The charged gorilla may stop just a few meters away to intimidate the victim. In unfortunate incidents, the gorilla can launch an attack by kicking, grabbing, dragging or biting and injuring the victim. A gorilla’s hands are capable of crushing a human head. For this reason, you should never put the gorillas in danger. Knowing how to behave when visiting gorillas is very important for your own safety as well as for the gorillas. Despite the fact that they’re habituated, they’re still wild and their behavior towards visitors is unpredictable. Please follow the instructions of your trackers and guides given that every gorilla encounter is unique.

What you need to know before visiting the gorillas

Gorilla trekking guidelines

  • Gorilla trekking is only permitted for those who are at least 15 years old. 
  • Wash your hands with soap or sanitize before visiting gorillas 
  • Eight people are allowed to visit a gorilla group per day for gorilla and four for gorilla habituation.
  • You’re not permitted to track gorillas if you are feeling ill with a contagious ailment, such as flu and diarrhea. Gorillas share 98% of their DNA with humans and they’re susceptible to human infectious diseases including Covid-19.
  • Maintain a distance of at least 7 meters away from the gorillas
  • Don’t use flash photography.
  • Visitors are allowed to spend one hour with the gorilla family during gorilla trekking and 4 hours during gorilla habituation
  • Stay in a group and never isolate yourself
  • If the gorilla approaches, don’t make sudden movements, stay calm and giveaway 
  • If you must sneeze or cough, turn your head away from the gorillas.
  • Don’t eat or drink in front of the gorillas
  • Human waste must be buried 30 cm deep when using the toilet in the forest


Posted in Safari News.