What are the chances of seeing mountain gorillas? Gorilla trekking is an expensive activity and tourists are always concerned about the chance of seeing the primates. There is so much to lose if you consider the price of a gorilla permit, airline tickets, accommodation, Visas, transport and equipment bought for the activity. The governments of Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo invest heavily in the gorillas not only because they are endangered but also because they bring foreign exchange to the country. The chances of seeing the gorillas is very high. If it were not so, it would not be as popular as it is.
In our experience organizing gorilla tours in Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, the chances of seeing the gorillas are 95%. The figure is just to reduce expectations. Gorilla trekking takes places every day of the year (including major national holidays). Only a major event like war or insecurity in the park could stop the activity as we have seen in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Gorilla trekking takes place even when there is heavy rain in the forest.
Gorilla families are allocated with consideration of one’s level of fitness. Younger and fitter travelers are normally assigned gorilla families farther away from the park offices while the older travelers are assigned nearby gorilla groups. This ensures that everyone completes the trek. It is important to let the Rangers and park officials know if you have any physical limitations. Being young does not mean you are fit enough or that you are healthy. It is also important to note that you can not be allowed to track gorillas if you have cough, flue or diarrhea. Those transmittable diseases could spread to the primates. Mountain gorillas are less immune to human diseases. If you believe that you are not fit enough to track the gorillas for more than two hours, we encourage you to inform your tour operator in advance so that an arrangement can be made for you to have an easier trek. By an easier trek, we mean a gorilla family that is closer to the starting point
Another solution for unfitness and especially for seniors would be to hire a group of porters to lift you up to the tracking point using Sedan chairs. If you are beginning to doubt your ability to complete the hike at this point, mental preparedness and walking practice is all you need ahead of your trip. Do not forget to come with items listed on the gorilla trekking packing list like hiking boots, long shirts/trousers, hand gloves and warm jacket. These items will help you prepare for the thick African jungle, mud, insects and the sun’s rays.
Back to reasons why the chances of seeing gorillas is high. The unsung heroes for all that is good about gorilla trekking are the advance group of trackers. These men wake up before the sun rises to go and locate the gorilla groups before tourists can be led into the forest. Once they find the gorilla family, they let the rangers know their exact location using Global positioning devices, radio or satellite phones. The trackers also let the Rangers know which route to follow to get to the gorilla group. Without these group of advance trackers, finding the gorillas would be difficult. Without them, tourists and Rangers would be moving about aimlessly in the forest.
In order to increase your already high chance of seeing the gorillas, book your gorilla tour at least 5 months in advance. This will allow your tour operator time to plan your trip well – including getting you an easier gorilla trek or sector for tracking. Booking a trip early is particularly important during the peak season of June, July and August when most tourists are traveling to Africa. If you book your tour late, it is difficult to guarantee that you will get a permit. If you doubt your physical fitness levels, book your trip early and insist that you are assigned an easier trek in the right sector of the park. Some believe that the chances of seeing mountain Gorillas in Rwanda are higher but that is a topic for another day, What are the chances of seeing mountain gorillas?
One last thing to note it that tourists are taken to see habituated gorilla families. Habituated gorilla families are used to humans in their presence and will not go away when you approach them hence increasing your chances of seeing them. If you want more time with the gorillas, you might want to know about the gorilla habituation experience in Bwindi impenetrable national park. This experience is different from standard gorilla trekking and involves being with the gorillas for four hours after finding them. It is a more involving and learning experience because you would be moving into the jungle with researchers and very experienced trackers. Only four tourists can take part in the gorilla habituation experience. If you can pay the $1500 for the permit, you will have more time with the primates and learn a lot about what researchers, primatologists and conservationists are doing to protect the primates.
In conclusion, we can say that the chances of seeing gorillas is very high indeed. It is not a guarantee that you will see the gorillas but it is difficult to imagine a scenario where a fully fit tourist can miss out on such an exciting activity. The Rangers always know the location of the primates before starting the trek and it’s up to you to continue following them up to their location. How long does it take to find the gorillas? Well, that is unpredictable. Unpredictable because it depends on the gorilla group you have assigned to and their location that day. Gorilla trekking takes between 30 minutes to 6 hours. One great thing about mountain gorillas is that they rarely move for more than two hours. They are not as mobile as chimpanzees. Mountain gorillas only migrate far away if the dominant Silverback sees a threat from say another silverback. They generally live a life of plenty with little need to move about.