Tracking gorillas is a life changing experience. The Mountain gorillas, the highly intelligent, good natured, and fascinating great ape are found in three countries; Uganda, Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). When viewing the gorillas, you will be in the presence of a powerful, awe-inspiring, yet calm Silverback. You may call him “a gentle giant”. The tenderness and care that mothers show their young is another life changing experience. The infants and the juveniles spend most of the time walking, playing and breastfeeding, giving visitors a smile on the face.
According to the 2010 and 2011 gorilla census, the population of mountain gorillas is standing at 880 in the three countries. Of these 880 mountain gorillas, 480 Mountain gorillas are in Virunga Mastiff, shared between 3 countries of Uganda, Rwanda and DRC (Although the official results of the 2015/2016 gorilla census are not yet out, it is estimated that the population of gorilla in Virunga Mastiff stands at 538 by 2015). There are additional 400 mountain gorillas in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda. In our previous articles, we discussed trucking gorillas and the gorilla families in Rwanda and Uganda. In this article, we shall also let you know about the remaining population of the mountain gorillas in DRC.
In DRC, the mountain gorillas are only found and tracked in Virunga National Park (Parc National des Virunga). The Virunga National Park is part of the wider Virunga Mastiff shared between Volcanoes National Park in DRC and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in southwestern Uganda. The Virunga National part is located within the great Volcano region of the Congo basin. The gorilla treking usually starts from the Bukima patrol post. The location, however, may change depending on where the gorillas spent the night. Just like in Uganda and Rwanda, you will be guided by an experienced guide and trackers provided by, Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature, ICCN (the authority in charge of wildlife in DRC). The tracking gorillas fees in DRC are lower; currently $ 400 for internationals and $150 for Congolese nationals. Trekking to and from the gorillas usually take 1-2 hours of hiking, depending where the mountain gorillas spent the previous night and the difficulty of the terrain. Tracking in DRC is unique in that visitors are required to wear surgical masks (provided) when in the presence of gorillas. This is to safeguard the health of Virunga’s gorillas.
Whereas wearing the mask is not yet an issue in Uganda and Rwanda, the park authority is in the early process of including this rule. In case you don’t feel well at the time of your scheduled trek (i.e. You have a cold, fever, diarrhea, or persistent sore throat) you are advised to cancel the activity. These gorillas are extremely susceptible to human illnesses. They have died after being exposed to human respiratory viruses and other common ailments. This is a big reason for surgical mask and keeping other gorilla viewing rules.
There are currently (as of September 2016) 8 mountain gorilla groups habituated and opened for tourism in Virunga National Park. These are:
The largest group is currently Bageni group with 26gorillas. In total, there are 115 habituated individual gorillas in DRC.