Are gorilla safaris safe? With no doubt, gorilla trekking is generally considered safe. Several measures have been put up to make mountain gorilla trekking one of the safest yet memorable experiences in both Uganda and Rwanda. Mountain gorilla trekking safaris are known to be one of the most transformative wildlife encounters in Africa and most past travelers have described it as life-changing. If you are wondering ‘‘Are gorilla safaris safe?’’ Gorilla trekking is safe although they remain wild animals and sometimes their behaviors cannot be fully predicted. There are set guidelines that are put in place to help trekkers have a safe and extraordinary gorilla trekking experience.
Observing mountain gorillas in their natural habitat is an incredible and highly sought-after experience in Uganda and Rwanda. The conservation efforts have enabled gorilla trekking programs in different National Parks, allowing visitors to witness these magnificent creatures up close while ensuring their safety and minimizing human impact on their fragile habitats.
Mountain gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei) are a subspecies of eastern gorillas and are one of the two species of gorillas. They are endangered in the East African region and can only be found in three countries Uganda, Rwanda, and D.R Congo. They primarily live in the Virunga Massif, which encompasses parts of Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as well as the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda.
Mountain gorillas are highly endangered, with only around 1,000 individuals remaining in the wild. They are among the world’s largest primates, with males weighing up to 400 pounds (180 kilograms) and standing about 5.6 feet (1.7 meters) tall when standing upright.
These gentle giants have distinctive features such as a stocky body, long arms, and a broad chest covered in thick black fur. The adult male has patches of silver-colored hair on their back, which is why they are referred to as “silverbacks.”
Mountain gorillas live in close-knit social groups called groups or families, led by a dominant male, the silverback. The family consists of several adult females, their offspring, and a few younger males (Blackbacks). Mountain Gorillas are herbivores, primarily feeding on leaves, stems, shoots, and fruits.
Mountain gorillas are known for their peaceful nature, and they are generally non-aggressive toward humans unless they feel threatened or provoked. Before a gorilla family is opened up for gorilla trekking, they are first habituated to make sure they get used to human presence. The habituation process lasts between 2 – 5 years before gorillas are opened for gorilla trekking safaris. Researchers and conservationists have made significant efforts to protect and preserve mountain gorillas through habitat conservation, anti-poaching measures, and tourism that promotes their conservation and provides funds for their protection.
Mountain gorillas are highly intelligent and display complex social behaviors similar to those observed in humans. They are also known for their expressive communication through vocalizations, facial expressions, and body postures.
Several measures have been put up to make gorilla trekking in Uganda, Rwanda, and DR Congo safe for travelers. In this Guide, we will discuss several things that assure and guarantee your safety during Gorilla trekking safaris in Uganda, and Rwanda.
Both Uganda and Rwanda have experience ranger guides and driver guides so you can rest assured, knowing that your safety is the top priority during gorilla trekking safaris. Usually, trekkers are divided into groups of 8 members that are accompanied by ranger guides. The ranger guides in Uganda and Rwanda are certified by reputable organizations and have a wealth of experience in gorilla trekking.
These guides are trained to keep you safe during a gorilla trekking safari. They are trained to help you during the trek by identifying potentially dangerous situations, guiding you, and communicating with the gorilla group to prevent them from getting agitated by your presence. Their incredible skill and expertise will surely make your gorilla trekking tour safe. With their guidance, you can confidently navigate the local terrain and observe gorilla behavior up close in their natural habitat.
These guides will give you insights on your trek since they are well-versed in the local terrain and can provide valuable information about the environment and the animals. There is no reason for hesitating to visit Africa for gorilla trekking safaris.
Every day before the trek begins, there is a briefing at the park headquarters. Your driver guide will transfer you to the park headquarters and you’ll attend a mandatory briefing session at the visitor center. These sessions usually start very early in the morning at around 8:00 am and during the briefing session, you’ll learn about the potential risks of gorilla trekking and how to mitigate them. During the briefing, you will get to know about the dos and don’ts during gorilla trekking. All the important safety information will be provided during the briefing such as maintaining a safe distance from the gorillas and not making direct eye contact.
The briefing sessions are designed to ensure your safety and to enable you to do the right things concerning conservation. If anyone has questions, the best time to raise them is during the briefing session. Gorilla trekking is a unique and unforgettable experience that requires caution and respect, we therefore encourage you to adhere to all the provided guidelines and rules during gorilla trekking.
The maximum number of members is 8 members. These groups are intentionally kept small to ensure that the gorilla habitat is not distorted or disturbed. A group of eight members is usually escorted by two rangers, and one expert tracking guide. The smaller group provides a more intimate and less disruptive experience, making it easier for rangers to ensure the safety of all participants during the gorilla trek.
There are expert Gorilla tracking teams that are well-equipped and ready to assist you in any emergency during the trek. Be it an injury, illness, adverse weather conditions, or any other unexpected event, the ranger teams are trained to handle the situation. This team of rangers has extensive training and experience in gorilla trekking – they are always ready with all the necessary equipment and follow specific protocols to ensure that everyone is safe when they visit gorillas.
Gorilla trekking does not extremely require you to be too fit although the experience requires some level of fitness. Gorilla trekking generally involves hiking in the rugged terrains and you generally need to be able to move for a considerable distance. Trekking gorillas involves hiking through dense forests and steep terrain, which can be challenging. Therefore, ensuring you’re physically prepared for the gorilla trek is crucial, as this can significantly contribute to your safety. For travelers with medical concerns, it’s advisable to consult with a doctor before embarking on a gorilla trekking tour.
We recommend you do some physical exercise to prepare for the gorilla trek, engage in regular cardio exercises, practice hiking on steep terrain if possible, and wear appropriate footwear to get yourself used to it.
Here are the best tips for preparing for your gorilla trekking safaris besides the provided guidelines.
Travel Insurance: When traveling to Africa, it is advisable to have comprehensive travel insurance that covers medical emergencies and evacuations. Travel insurance is a crucial safety net in case of unforeseen circumstances during your gorilla trekking safari.
Vaccinations and Health Preparations: We recommend that you first consult a travel health specialist to ensure you have the necessary vaccinations and medications for your trip. Although the most prevalent disease is malaria, we recommend that you inquire with the medical specialists to ensure a safe and successful gorilla trekking safari.
Respect the Environment: Trekking gorillas is an amazing experience because of the devoted conservation efforts of the different players. We, therefore, recommend you adhere to all the guidelines and rules, for example, you are not allowed to dump in the park.
Pack Wisely: To make yourself comfortable during your trip, recommend you pack the appropriate items for your safari. Pack appropriate clothing for varying weather conditions, including rain gear, sturdy hiking boots, and warm layers. The other essentials are insect repellent, sunscreen, and a camera.
Listen to Your Guide: During the trek, everything you need to know is with your guide. We recommend that you always follow the instructions and guidance.
Obtain necessary permits: You cannot trek gorillas in Uganda and Rwanda if you do not have a gorilla trekking permit. Ensure the permits are genuine and acquired through authorized channels. Acacia Safaris Limited is the best tour operator that will help you acquire gorilla trekking permits and arrange your gorilla trekking safari.
Carry necessary supplies: Besides clothing and gadgets, bring essentials such as water, snacks, sunscreen, a hat, and a camera (without a flash). However, make sure to minimize your impact on the environment and wildlife by not leaving any litter behind after the trek.