Gorilla Habituation Experience
Gorilla Habituation Experience is one of the gorilla safari activities that travelers can book for if they wish to spend more time with the endangered gorilla species. Mountain gorillas are naturally afraid of humans and usually flee or aggressively charge if the humans get too close. The mountain gorillas that are tracked by gorillas were first habituated and later made available to be visited by tourists for a maximum of one hour. The national parks of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park have over 19 habituated gorilla families that can be tracked but were previously under habituation to have them accustomed to human presence.
Gorilla habituation is an activity that involves a small number of tourists along with the researchers and experts having peaceful contact with the mountain gorillas for a period of time every day up until the gorillas lose their fear of humans and can accommodate being in their presence for a period of time. This habituation exercise is done for about two to three years. Upon first contact, the mountain gorillas are fearful and run away from humans. Gradually though, the gorillas stop fleeing but instead start to charge at humans and also exhibit negative behavior indicating stress and discomfort over human presence. With time, they become more responsive and they gradually adapt to human presence for a period of time that they even can go about their daily activities of feeding and playing around and be oblivious of human presence. It is at this stage that the gorillas can be considered habituated and availed to tourists to track.
The gorilla habituation experience as a tourist activity was introduced by the Uganda Wildlife Authority in 2014 to give travelers that are interested in spending more time with the gorillas and learning and understanding them plus naming them and the like an opportunity to do so. This experience involves trekking the forest to the location that the gorilla family that is habituated is and then spending four hours with them. Gorilla habituation experience allows only four tourists per day per group and there are only two groups that are available. This makes the slots for tourist very few and therefore advance booking is required to be guaranteed of taking part in the experience.
To be able to take part in the gorilla habituation experience, one needs to purchase a permit from the Uganda Wildlife Authority offices in Kampala or have a trusted tour operator purchase it for you. Since only 4 persons are allowed per group and that there are only two available groups, booking way in advance is advised. The cost of the gorilla habituation experience is $1,500 for foreign non-residents, $1,000 for foreign residents and UGX750,000 for East African citizens.
The gorilla habituation experience starts in the early morning with a briefing at the park headquarters. You will be given rules and guidelines to be followed for a successful experience and then embark on the trek to find the gorilla family that is being habituated. You will be shown important-to-note features and wildlife while during the hike and when you do meet the family you will have four full hours to be in their presence and marvel at those near-human creatures. The experience can take place all throughout the year but it is most advised that travelers do so during the dry months of June-September and mid-December-February, but it still can rain any time of day for the fact that Bwindi is a rainforest.
How different is gorilla habituation experience from the normal gorilla trekking?
- Gorilla habituation experience is only available in the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park while gorilla trekking is available in Mgahinga as well in addition to other national parks in the region.
- There are only two gorilla groups available for a gorilla habituation experience as compared to the over 19 groups that can be tracked.
- Only four visitors per group are allowed to do gorilla habituation experience and yet eight people per group are allowed to trek mountain gorillas.
- Tourists spend four full hours with the gorillas when doing a gorilla habituation experience while tourists doing a gorilla trekking experience spend only one hour with the gorillas.
- Gorilla habituation experience costs more than gorilla trekking. The amount is worth it though, for the experience is indescribable.
The same packing list that is recommended for a gorilla trekking safari is what one should adhere to for a successful gorilla habituation experience, thus;
- Hiking boots that are waterproof is possible to prevent you from getting wet in case you step in mud, puddles, rivers or if it decides to rain.
- Long-sleeved shirts
- Waterproof hat
- Waterproof backpack to safeguard your important items like the camera and binoculars if seeing birds is part of what interests you.
- Garden Gloves to keep your hands from plant pricks and reactions from some vegetation
- Camera for the pictures and videos
- Waterproof jacket to shield one from the rains
- Energy giving snacks and enough water
- Insect repellent creams
Mountain gorilla habituation experience rules and guidelines are the same as those for mountain gorilla tracking and they include;
- Maintain a 7m distance from the mountain gorillas. Since we share a 98% DNA, they are very prone to acquiring our illnesses.
- Only persons 15 and above are allowed to participate in this gorilla habituation experience.
- Always follow guides and rangers’ instructions, they know everything concerning the park and the gorillas.
- Do not use flash cameras if you are to take pictures.
- In case a gorilla charges at you, keep still and avoid eye contact with the gorillas as this is a threat to them.
- When in danger of any sort say a gorilla charges at you, follow whatever instructions the ranger or guide will be showing you.
- A maximum of four hours is given to you when you get to the gorillas. Use them wisely.
- Do not litter the forest, leave it as you found it.
- Noise should be avoided, whisper if need be.
More than anything, you need to know that the gorilla habituation experience is not just more time with the mountain gorillas but it is an authentic experience in the wild given that mountain gorillas are not in zoos-they actually can’t survive while in captivity. This is a priceless experience without comparing that you need to take part, get in touch with a trusted tour operator to help you with the preparations.