Go Gorilla Trekking!
If you were inspired by the documentary Virunga or the film Gorillas in the Mist, you’ve probably wondered “Where can I go Gorilla Trekking?” These films are based on real conservation efforts and people who are devoted to saving the endangered mountain gorillas. Fewer than 900 mountain gorillas remain, split between Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Gorilla trekking is the only way to see these primates in their natural habitat, and this rare experience is thrilling for adventure travellers and nature lovers alike.
Ultimately, the goal of gorilla trekking is improving the gorilla’s population and habitat. Poaching, habitat loss, war and disease nearly wiped out the species. Conservation efforts include habituating some of the gorillas, since acclimating them to human presence and ecotourism allows park rangers to keep the primates safe and treat injuries. Many non-habituated gorillas live in the national parks without human interaction.
The remaining mountain gorillas live in the areas surrounding the volcanic Virunga Mountains in Africa. They can be found in national parks of Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. There is also a separate population in Uganda’s Bwindi National Park, which is a new destination for gorilla trekking.
Volcanoes National Park has the largest count of habituated gorillas, and 10 mountain gorilla groups can be seen on guided treks. 5 of the 8 Virunga Mountains are located in this park, and it is also home to golden monkeys and 178 bird species. This park was also the home of famous zoologist Dian Fossey, whose work was the mountain gorillas was recorded in the film Gorillas in the Mist.
Mountain gorillas exist in two of Uganda’s national parks, Mgahinga and Bwindi. Though Mgahinga includes 3 Virunga Mountains, but it only has one habituated gorilla group, making treks unreliable. Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (in addition to having an impressive name), is home to 340 mountain gorillas, and there are 4 habituated groups. Bwindi is also notable for the diversity in its flora and fauna.
Democratic Republic of Congo
The Congo’s Virunga National Park, though less visited, is home to several habituated gorilla families and astounding biodiversity. Sadly, political instability and the Congo Civil War have taken a toll on tourism in the DRC, so travelling can be difficult. However, the park and mountain gorillas have received new attention from the award-winning documentary Virunga, showing the political and economic issues that arise as oil drilling begins in the park.
Since the gorillas are on the verge of extinction, it has lead to restricted activity for tourists. Choosing to go gorilla trekking with a trained guide is the best way to see the gorillas and support their conservation. Thankfully, in the last 7 years there has been a 26.3% increase in the mountain gorilla population, and there are 880 living today. Though this increase is hopeful, their survival is dependant on the continued conservation efforts of the government, ecotourists, park rangers and non-profits that support them.