Gorilla safari or gorilla trekking is high on many a wish list. Some are able to make this a reality, but often find themselves rather surprised at how many rules and regulations go with a trek of this nature. Let’s not even talk about the preparation. Well actually, I will touch on the preparation because it is equally important to all the rules and stuff you really must know before you go.
Gorillas are an endangered species and stringent rules, etiquette, laws and regulations have been put in place to protect them.
First the basics
In the countries of Uganda and Rwanda visitors are allowed to trek to and spend time with gorillas in the wild. A ranger or group of rangers will search for the gorilla families based on the previous day’s sightings. There is always a chance that you may trek to a location and the gorillas are not there. They are after all in the wild and they roam freely in the mountainous forests.
You must be physically fit to trek to the gorillas. Although much of the trail will be on established paths the last section of the trek which gets you close to the family may be in wet, muddy steep slope type terrain. The trek to find the gorilla family can take anything from 2 to 8 hours and the visit itself is limited to 1 hour.
Training for a trip of this nature is essential. Hike daily or go to your local gym and use the stair master. Take longer hikes on the weekends. Building muscle strength and stamina is key.
You must be up to date with your vaccinations. Requirements for these change and it is a good idea to check in the with the Rwandan and Ugandan consulates to check what their requirements are. Another very useful source is the CDC.
Come prepared with the right clothing and shoes. Remember you are hiking some rough terrain and good hiking shoes are imperative. Waterproof jacket and lightweight clothing are excellent choices. You may want to consider some gloves when tracking, because the forest areas can get thick and nasty. You may encounter some wet conditions and a couple of zip lock bags could come in handy to keep cameras dry. Once you’re on the trail there is no running back for extra batteries or a bottle of water, so plan the trek as if you are going to be away for a full day.
Gorilla trekking etiquette
- You will start out in the morning with a briefing and your group will be checked out to make sure you are in good health to make the trek. A gorilla family is very susceptible to human diseases and anyone with a cold, flu or any transmittable illness will not be permitted to make the hike. Remember that gorillas share 97% of their genes with humans. To avoid passing any kind of germ on to the gorillas wash your hands prior to going on the trek. If you do need to sneeze or cough, do so into your elbow and turn your head away.
- When the gorillas have been sighted and you get closer, you will be asked to leave all your bags, backpack and the like behind, and take only your camera or video camera with you. The gorillas may become too curious about the bags and disrupt the visit. Flash photography is not allowed as it will scare the gorillas.
- Based on the point above you must make sure that the camera you are using does not need a flash. Take into consideration that you are in a forest and there may not be much light.
- When visiting the group you must keep your distance. Your guide will give you instructions but the general rule is 25 feet.
- Don’t go wandering off, stay with your group when near the gorillas.
- Talking to your guide and asking questions is fine but keep your voices low.
- No eating or drinking is permitted near the gorillas.
- Don’t leave any garbage behind.
- No physical contact with a gorilla is allowed. Never reach out and try to touch, pet or stroke a gorilla. If one approaches you, stay very still and don’t make eye contact.
- On occasion the gorillas may charge. If this happens look to your guide and do what he does. Crouch down slowly, don’t make eye contact and wait for the gorilla to pass by. Never run!
- Children under 15 are not permitted on a trek.
For more information on Uganda visit the Uganda page
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Author: Principle writer – Celeste Wilson
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