Mountain Gorilla Habituation in Bwindi Forest
Mountain Gorilla Habituation is the process of familiarising mountain gorillas with human presence for purposes of study or tourism including mountain gorilla trekking activities. Habituation is the ultimate mountain gorilla experience with four hours of interaction with the mountain gorillas compared to the one-hour interaction you have on a gorilla trekking experience.
The four hours you spend with the mountain gorilla are not just thrilling but life changing, you experience so much about the mountain gorillas like their playing cultures, eating habits, bonding mechanisms, defence mechanisms among others.
The entire process involves understanding the behaviour of the gorillas, analysing the different ways of interaction and communication between the gorillas and the humans; and during this process, the rangers and researchers also find characteristics of the specific gorilla individuals of each gorilla family and eventually name each of them.
On this experience, tourists will move with both rangers and gorilla experts that are skilled in gorilla habituation. The ranger’s role on this role is mainly to help navigate the forest trails and keep in touch with the trackers to locate the gorillas that are going to be habituated.
The gorilla experts take over once the gorillas are located to guide on the interactions with the gorillas since these gorillas are normally not familiar with humans, the experts employ different tactics to keep them around and not run off into the forest, these tactics also keep the gorillas from charging at you because of fear of you.
The experts also engage in several ways that keep the gorillas calm and relaxed enough to keep to their normal routine and behaviour so that they can be studied accurately.
This whole experience is very different from mountain gorilla trekking, though on both experiences you get to see the mountain gorillas during mountain gorilla trekking you interact with the gorillas for one hour which you use to see the gorillas and take a couple of photos with them and then you’re done and out of the forest.
During habituation you trek longer because you’re constantly following the gorillas, the gorillas for habituations are not used to humans so they can easily run away from humans; this is unlike on a trek where the gorillas stay where they are even in the presence of humans.
On a habituation trek, you stay longer with the mountain gorillas four hours, get very close to them, touch them, train them and hang around them for a long as you help them get used to human presence.
Also, the numbers for gorilla trekking are open to up to 8 people but gorilla habituation is limited to only four people.
Bwindi Forest National Park being home to over half the number of mountain gorillas in the world is the perfect place for mountain gorilla habituation because of the numerous numbers of gorillas available chances are there always unhabituated gorillas in the big forest.
It’s for this reason that habituation is currently not done in Rwanda and DRC, the number of mountain gorillas in both habitats is small and chances are high all the gorillas in those habitats have been habituated already.
The other reason is that Bwindi Impenetrable rain forest which is the habitat of the mountain gorillas in Bwindi is big rich food hub for several gorillas always roam the forest and these gorillas wander off in deep areas forming families of unhabituated individuals.
Mountain gorilla habituation in Bwindi National Park happens only in Rushaga sector in the south of the park; the sector was opened by Uganda Wildlife Authority in 2016 and is currently home to two gorilla families thus Bushaho and Bikingi gorilla families that are open for habituation all year round more especially December to March and July to October.
Rushaga sector in the south can be accessed from Uganda’s capital Kampala through Kisoro which takes about 8 to 9 hours and the shortest route is from Rwanda’s capital Kigali through Kisoro which takes about 3 to 4 hours; making it the shortest access route.
A mountain gorilla habituation permits cost 1500 USD and can be attained from Uganda Wildlife authority or through a tour operator; for this experience, one needs to really book their permit way in advance about 5 months because of the limited slots for the people that take park in the experience.
Most people that take part in the mountain gorilla habituation experience include but not limited to trackers, searchers, conservationists, rangers and wildlife lovers. Trekkers going for this experience need to have the right mountain gorilla trekking gear especially hiking boots (waterproof), long sleeved clothes, insect repellents, and sunscreen among other things. Trekkers should also carry water and snacks to take them through the whole day; this experience is normally quite long.
On your habituation trip, you will have to seek for accommodation that is close to or within the Rushaga sector in Bwindi Forest National park; the good thing is the sector has several accommodation options that are well varnished and equipped to meet your sleeping and feeding needs, the options range from budget, midrange and luxury and include:-
- Ichumbi lodge
- gorilla safari lodge
- Rushaga gorilla camp
- Nshongi camp
- gorilla valley lodge