Gorilla Habituation Experience

The gorilla habituation experience is one of the rarest activities that can only be undertaken in Uganda. The activity is only possible in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Before mountain gorilla families are trekked by visitors, they have to be trained. Then slowly and gently introduced to the presence of humans. This process is called “Gorilla Habituation”.  This is done for all National Parks. Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable and Mgahinga Gorilla National Parks. Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park, and Virunga National Park of the Democratic Republic of Congo. This is where these endangered Giant Apes are found. But it is only in one National Park where the semi-habituated mountain gorillas can be visited.

What is gorilla habituation?

Wild mountain gorillas have to be habituated, to allow researchers to study them, Park Rangers protect them from poachers and boost their conservation efforts through sustainable tourism. For mountain gorillas to become accustomed to human presence (less wild, and not hide upon seeing visitors), every gorilla family has to undergo a lengthy habituation process. The process lasts 2-3 years. A team of expert researchers, Rangers, trackers, and conservationists does this. This process normally begins with Park rangers spending a short period with them every day while maintaining a considerable distance from their comfort zone.

While the mountain gorillas are semi-habituated (not fully habituated but used to the presence of Rangers, trackers, researchers, and conservationists only, not tourists), visitors can visit them through the “Gorilla Habituation Experience. If you have ever visited a fully habituated gorilla family and a semi-habituated one, you will be able to tell the difference between the two because the latter tend to hide from visitors.

Gorilla Habituation Experience

Thanks to the timid nature of mountain gorillas, only four persons visit them (unlike 8 persons who visit habituated gorilla families). Hence providing a more intimate and unforgettable experience perfect for photography and filming. It will also interest you to know that visitors have an opportunity to spend more quality time with the mountain gorillas- up to four hours hence more elaborate and rewarding.

By taking part in this unforgettable experience, visitors directly support the significant work of habituating the Giant Apes and making sure they survive for generations. It is undeniably rewarding and unforgettable to think that you are one of the few persons that spend time with them, in their semi-habituated state.

The Semi-habituated gorilla families in Uganda

So far, one gorilla family (Bikyingi in the Rushaga sector) is available for the Gorilla Habituation Experience. This family is presently led by Silverback Kaharata. He took over leadership after killing the then-leader Silverback Bikyingi, from whom the family was named. Before being killed, these two silverbacks had several fights and the last one which led to the death of Bikyingi was the climax of them. Kaharata was a solitary male who used to roam in the Bikyingi area and Rangers suspect that he has an interest in the leadership of this family. After Bikyingi’s death, several members left the group, with at least 7 joining the Kahungye family. Nonetheless, a search was done and at least 9 members (including the solitary male) were found hence there are now 9 members; 1 silverback, 2 adult females. 2 sub-adult females, 1 sub-adult male, and 3 blackbacks.

Why you should take on a gorilla habituation experience on a Uganda Safari

Gorilla Habituation Experience provides an unrushed and enriching encounter with the endangered Giant Apes. Spending more quality time to fully understand, take photos, and explore their natural habitat. Get the chance to immerse yourself in their vulnerable but rich World. As they go about their day-to-day lives that range from feeding, resting, and mating, to grooming each other under the watchful and protective gaze of the mighty and strong dominant silverback.

On your day of the Gorilla Habituation Experience, you will converge at the briefing point at 6:00 am for briefing. This is just before venturing into the dense rainforest with a team of expert Ranger guides, and armed escorts (Rangers) to search for tracks left by these Giant Apes. The first clue to getting to them is finding the nests from the previous night. It will take about 2-6 hours to locate them. Once sighted, you will be allowed to spend a total of four hours with them as they go about their daily routines- feeding, resting, mating, grooming, and playing.

The Price of Permits for the Gorilla Habituation Experience

There is currently only one Gorilla Family available for the Gorilla Habituation Experience and can be visited by only four persons each day. For this reason, only four gorilla permits are available each day for this once-in-a-lifetime experience. Therefore, is advisable to book at least 6 months in advance to secure your place among the few primate enthusiasts that take part in this experience. The Gorilla Habituation Experience permits cost $1500 per person and are worth it. This is because you will get up to four hours with the Giant Apes (instead of one hour during the standard gorilla trekking tours).

Additionally, a more intimate moment is perfect for photography and filming them as they go about their daily routines. The cost of gorilla permits covers park entry fees, services of expert guides, trackers, armed security during the experience, and the four hours in the presence of the endangered mountain gorillas.

What is the best time to undertake the Gorilla Habituation Experience?

The Gorilla Habituation Experience is available all year round. But the best and least challenging encounters are enjoyed during the dry months- June through September, and December to February. During these months, the forest trails are less muddy and slippery. This makes it less challenging/hectic to walk through the jungles in search of these Giant Apes.

The heavy rains during wet months; March to May, October, and November make forest trails muddy and slippery. Hence more challenging to watch through the jungles while searching for them. However, it is still possible to trek them and gorilla treks go on as planned. Interestingly, the wet months provide the most unbeaten conditions for photography. The occasional showers clear the air of dust and the dense green vegetation provides a nice backdrop for photography.

What to pack for the Gorilla Habituation Experience?

For your smooth and unforgettable Gorilla habituation experience in Bwindi Forest, we recommend packing right.  Some of the equipment includes; comfortable and breathable waterproof long trousers and sturdy hiking boots with good ankle support. A lightweight rain jacket, and cotton socks which should be long enough to allow tucking in trousers.  A wide-brimmed safari hat and sunglasses for sun protection. A lightweight backpack with enough space for storing items needed during the trek. Packed lunch, a pair of binoculars, and a good camera for capturing the unforgettable encounters during the Gorilla Habituation Experience. A first aid kit, insect repellant, a reusable water bottle, and gardening gloves among others.

Where to stay before/after the Gorilla Habituation Experience?

The southern sectors (Nkuringo and Rushaga) are the best places to stay during your Gorilla Habituation Experience tour. They boast a wide range of accommodation options ranging from budget to luxury. These places include Clouds Mountain Gorilla Lodge, Chameleon Hill Forest Lodge and Gorilla Safari Lodge. Ichumbi Safari Lodge, and Rushaga Safari Lodge.  Four Gorillas Safari Lodge, and Nkuringo Bwindi Gorilla Lodge among others.

How to get to southern Bwindi Impenetrable National Park?

Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is set in the southern side of Uganda, and its southern sector can be reached by air and road. For air, charter or scheduled domestic flights can be arranged from Entebbe International Airport to Kisoro airstrip. This is followed by a one-and-a-half-hour drive to the southern sectors (Rushaga or Nkuringo) where your accommodation is based. For road, you can opt for the long driver – 9 to 10 hours’ drive from Entebbe/Kampala to Rushaga/Nkuringo sector. Alternatively, you may opt for the shorter drive- 3-4 hours’ drive from Kigali City via Cyanika or Katuna borders.

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