Trekking to see mountain gorillas is one of the natural world’s greatest privileges. This endangered species has been brought back from the brink of extinction and while its numbers in the wild are still counted in the hundreds rather than the tens of thousands it is stable and growing.
Bwindi Inpenetrable Forest, situated in the south-west corner of Uganda, is home to over half of total remaining gorillas. It gets its name for a reason. It is an untamed tropical jungle, a thick canopy blots out the sun and thick foliage makes any trek a real challenge. Throw in the fact that the terrain is hilly – indeed bordering on the mountainous – and you will want to make sure you’re fit before you go to get the most out of it.
The first task is to get a permit. Access to the various gorilla groups is restricted to a handful of permits per group per day so as to not to worry the gorillas. A one day permit costs (Spring 2011) US$ 750 per person. For this you get a maximum of 1 hour with them, assuming that you find them which is not a given. The day our video was taken it took nearly 4 hours of hard trekking to locate and catch up with them. And when they decide to move on, they move fast.
At the Park HQ you are briefed about how to behave – no closer than 10 metres, cover your mouth if you sneeze, if the silverback charges stand still (!). You then head off with your guides and porters (who can be hired for a few US$ at the centre).
The walk-in goes through areas of cultivation before entering the jungle itself, sometimes on small trails, mostly not.
Nothing prepared you for your first glimpse. They appear through the undergrowth and after the silverback has allowed you to stay by either ignoring you or mounting a dummy charge to establish authority, they relax and behave normally. Grooming, relaxing and plenty of eating. In fact sometimes it’s hard to work out exactly who is watching who!
Better to watch than to read, watch our gorilla video here to see just how special such a trip is. Sometimes they come up to you, brushing past or for a better look. They are memories you’ll never forget.