The Gorilla Habituation Experience in Uganda provides an unforgettable four-hour encounter with mountain gorillas. Mountain gorillas have long been recognized as one of the most important wildlife attractions on an African safari. Thousands of visitors come from all over the world to search for this hidden treasure which can only be found in East and Central Africa’s dense, humid, and mountainous forests of Bwindi, Volcanoes, Mgahinga, and Virunga National Parks. Mountain gorillas like all other wild animals are naturally afraid of humans and will flee or become aggressive if approached.
Gorilla charging is uncommon, but it can happen if the group is approached without a habituation period.
The Gorilla Habituation Experience in Uganda is the process of acclimating these gentle and adorable creatures to humans and teaching them to regard humans as any other harmless being in their environment. The habituation process for gorillas usually takes two to three years but it can take up to five years.
During the habituation stage, gorilla group members are also named. A group of trackers, guides, and researchers approach a gorilla group in a non-threatening manner with the goal of determining the best way to communicate with the gorillas. This is risky. However, because gorillas particularly the dominant silverback would love to assert their dominance some level of aggression should be expected. The key to gorilla habituation is to gain the approval of the dominant male. Once this is accomplished, closeness to the group can follow. After the gorilla group has finished the habituation process, they are tested before being opened to visitors.
The Gorilla Habituation Experience in Uganda began in central Africa in the 1960s spearheaded by Dr Dian Fossey who pioneered the gorilla habituation process alongside tracking, identification, range mapping, and other research activities that are still being implemented by gorilla conservation authorities today. Gorilla habituation is a useful tool for gorilla conservation programs and research because it allows for easy monitoring of gorilla groups’ security, health, population trends, social behavior, and feeding habits. It is also possible to estimate the revenue generated for local communities, governments, and businesses, particularly tourism-related businesses, using gorilla habituation. Gorilla habituation is risky and time consuming. As a result of constant contact with humans, it exposes gorillas to risks such as disease. Furthermore, for habituation to be considered successful, a significant amount of time must be set aside.
Mountain gorilla conservation and habituation began in the early 1990s with the establishment of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park in 1991. This involved three gorilla groups – the Katendegyere and Mubare groups in the Buhoma sector and the Kyagulilo Group in the Ruhiji sector of Bwindi in the first phase of habituation. In 1993, the first two groups were open to tourism activities. However, the Katendegyere group, which had 11 members (down from 3 in 1998), crossed into the Democratic Republic of Congo in the Sarambwe Game Reserve, while the Mubare group, which was led by Ruhondeza, who died in 2012, now has 12 members after a series of changes.
The Kyaguliro, a group that was the victim of a poaching attack and lost four members, now has 18 members due to new births.
As gorilla trekking became more popular in the mid-1990s so did the need for more Gorilla families to be habituated because the first group simply couldn’t meet all of the demands. This resulted in the habituated of two more groups, the Habinyanja and Nkuringo. However, the Nkuringo group was only opened to tourism in 2004 due to a number of challenges including inadequate infrastructure.
With the need to spread its significance to the majority of Bwindi, the third phase of the Gorilla Habituation Experience in Uganda began in 2006 with two additional groups habituated and opened up for tourism in 2008. The Nshongi and Bitukura tribes were among them. The Nshongi group in the park’s southern sector was the largest gorilla group ever recorded with over 30 members at the time. This was the result of a dramatic split in the group which resulted in its merger with another group. In 2008, two more groups were habituated: the Kahungye Group in the Park’s southern section and the Oruzogo Group in the forest’s western section, which had 30 and 20 members respectively. The former splintered into nine members to form the Busingye Group
Gorilla Habituation Experience in Uganda is a newly introduced activity for mountain gorilla enthusiasts in which four tourists are given the opportunity to experience the fun of the Gorilla habituation process for four hours under the supervision of researched and trained trackers. This is in contrast to gorilla trekking in which 8 people are assigned to each gorilla group and can only observe the gorillas for one hour. The Uganda Wildlife Authority pioneered gorilla habituation experience in 2014, which is only available in Uganda, not Rwanda or the Democratic Republic of the Congo. You will have more time to learn about their way of life, take more photos, observe them interact, feed, build nests, and groom themselves during the gorilla habituation process. You will also learn about the roles that each member of the family plays. The gorilla habituation experience, which includes park entry, costs $1500, which is significantly less than the $700 paid for one hour of gorilla trekking. In comparison, gorilla trekking in Uganda is less pricey than the habituation experience. The Uganda Wildlife Authority has designated two gorilla groups in the Rushaga and Nkuringo areas of Bwindi for habituation in 2018-2019.
The Bikyinji family, which has 22 members, is located in the Rushaga area of the park, as is the Bushaho family, which split from the Nkuringo family. This group is led by a dominant silverback named Bahati (after the location where the group was first spotted), who commands three adult females, an infant, a juvenile, a subadult, and a black back.
Visitors booked for the Gorilla Habituation Experience in Uganda meet at the Bwindi visitor center in Rushaga at 7:30 a.m. for a briefing by authorities from the Uganda Wildlife Authority and the research group before the activity begins at 8:00 a.m. The gorilla habituation process requires a minimum of 15 years of age. It is recommended that those wishing to participate in the habituation process be physically fit enough to hike to the steeper and denser parts of the forests, as these mighty apes tend to move to difficult-to-reach terrain and areas of the park. Sick people are not permitted to participate in the gorilla habituation process. Human diseases such as influenza pose a threat to mountain gorillas. When photographing mountain gorillas, avoid using flash cameras. Do not try to imitate or mock gorillas. Avoid provoking them and keep at least 10 meters away.
The best time to see gorillas on a Gorilla Habituation Experience in Uganda is usually during the high seasons, which last from December to March and June to October. However, you can also visit during the low season in April, May, October, or November. However, these months are unfavorable because of heavy rains, which make hiking difficult. Because of the high demand from visitors for the gorilla habituation experience and the limited number of permits available per day, you must book early, at least 6 months before your visit is recommended.
Permits can be obtained from the Uganda Wildlife Authority or your tour operator. Booking tickets requires your passport information. Long-sleeved shirts made of polyester material that dries quickly, gardening gloves, a hut, long trousers, a rain jacket, bottles of drinking water, hiking shoes, a camera, a walking stick, and, of course, insect repellents to protect you from mosquito bites would be included on parking lists/essentials. Pack some snacks or lunch because the habituation process usually takes the entire day. It’s also a good idea to hire porters to help you carry heavy loads and climb steep slopes.
Bwindi Impenetrable Forest can be reached in three ways. One option is to drive from Kampala or Entebbe to the park, which takes about 10 hours. The shortest and most convenient option for travelers is a one-and-a-half hour flight from Kajjansi flying school in Wakiso district along the Kampala/Entebbe highway to Kisoro, followed by a 45-minute drive to your Rushaga lodge. A traveler can choose to arrive from Kigali to avoid the long journey from Kampala/Entebbe and the expensive flight from Kajansi. Rushaga in Bwindi is only 4 hours away by car from Kigali.
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