The staff at Volcanoes National Park is always prepared to handle your gorilla tracking needs because they have been doing this for several years and run a very smooth operation, hence treks to the mountain gorillas are well-organized and it is likely to be once-in-a-lifetime experience for you.
What It’s like on a Gorilla Trekking Safari
English speaking driver guide will pick you up from your lodge to the park headquarters in Kinigi village very early in the morning on the day of your gorilla trekking to track the apes from the edge of the forest. They will be taking you to a specific group of ‘habituated’ mountain gorillas, which they know well and are used to human visitors. Most trekkers are a little apprehensive – a large silverback male gorilla can weigh up to 200kg, or three times the weight of the average man, but the apprehension usually vanishes when you see the group. Often the gorillas will be spread around a small area of dense vegetation. They’ll continue with their feeding and interactions, nonchalant about their visitors, though watching you with interest. Occasionally one, often a playful youngster, will approach you with curiosity – sometimes coming so close that you’ll have to move away.
You will have a briefing at the park headquarters on general gorilla tracking safety and manners and later divided into parties of 8. You’ll be driven to the start of the trail to reach your mountain gorilla group. Your guide will then lead you along generally clear paths up into the forest, in radio communication with the trackers that stay with the group so that they can be located. The altitude is over 2,500m, so although the pace is unhurried, the hike is tiring and can be steep in parts, taking from 30 minutes to a few hours. Don’t be surprised if you feel a bit breathless at this altitude – this is perfectly normal.
Gorilla Tracking Etiquette
To keep mountain gorillas safe from several human infections, gorilla tracking regulations have been put in place to safeguard these fragile creatures. Mountain gorillas share 98% of our DNA and as such are very susceptible to catching human infections, particularly respiratory ones, but they don’t have our immune system to deal with them – a common cold could eventually prove life-threatening. Each gorilla group is visited by only one group of tourists each day and once you’ve found them, you’ll have just one precious hour in their company. If you have a cold, flu or other contagious infection, you shouldn’t go gorilla trekking.
Please keep a distance of 7m from the gorillas, although of course the gorillas themselves are unaware of this and will often get very close, in which case you should try to move away.
When you’re with your group, you should try not to make sudden movements and to keep your voices low so that the group remains relaxed. Although these mountain gorillas are now used to seeing people, do bear in mind that they are still wild animals and can sometimes react unexpectedly, so always heed your guide’s and trackers’ instructions. You won’t be allowed to eat or drink when you’re with the gorillas.
Photography on a gorilla trekking safari
Try one of the most thrilling photo sessions you’ll ever experience while taking your own pictures of mountain gorillas if you’re a keen photographer. Do bear in mind that the light can be poor in the rainforest and that use of flash is not permitted. You might also need to protect your camera against heavy rain.