Gorilla habituation is a process of training wild gorillas with the aim of making them familiar with the human presence before they are open to tourists for trekking. The process of gorilla habituation is done by a team of researchers, conservationists, trackers, and rangers. Gorilla habituation takes two to three years and during this time researchers keep on visiting the wild Gorilla groups on a daily basis for the habituation process to be completed and the gorillas to be open for the gorilla trekking process. Gorilla habituation experiences are only offered in the Uganda southern region in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park with the highest number of habituated gorilla families and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park with only one habituated gorilla family.
Uganda Wildlife Authority introduced the gorilla habituation experience in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park to interested clients on Uganda safaris in 2014 and it has now become a stable, thrilling and exciting activity in Bwindi Forest. Gorilla habituation is only carried out in only one sector of Bwindi Forest known as Rushaga Gorilla Sector.
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park has over 450 gorillas and 11 habituated gorilla families including Mubare, Habinyanja, Rushegura families which are located in northern sector Buhoma, Bitukura, Oruzogo, Kyagururo families located in eastern part Ruhija, Nshonji, Mishaya, Busingye, Bweza, Kahungye families in the southern part of Rushaga and Nkuringo.
Two gorilla families have been dedicated or put aside for the gorilla habituation experience in the southern sector of Rushaga and Nkuringo which are Bushaho and Bikingi family with one silverback as the leader of the family, nine female adults, nine infants, and two sub-adults. During this habituation experience tourists get an early breakfast at the lodge and report to the park headquarters for a briefing about the habituation process, expectations, safety procedures to follow while in the forest among others and then set off for trekking at 7:00 am with the ranger, researchers, and trackers. The Gorilla habituation experience in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is restricted to a maximum of 4 people each day compared to the 8 people for gorilla trekking and is for visitors above the age of 15 years.
The Gorilla habituation experience is an exciting and enjoyable activity in Bwindi Forest in that visitors spend a whole day tracking and 4 hours with the gorillas in their natural habitat as part of the team and actively participate in learning and habituation process compared to the one hour given during the gorilla trekking. Visitors learn more about the individual gorillas, their behaviors, the naming of gorilla individuals which is done basing on their appearance, behavior, history and also take better pictures for memories among others. When the researchers are certain that the gorillas are used to the human presence they introduce a mock exercise to test them where a few people such as scientists, journalists start visiting and when the family has passed the mock exercise then it will be open for trekking safaris.
Gorillas are naturally afraid of humans and get aggressive when people get close to them they hideaway and the advantage of the habituation experience is to develop a trustful relationship with humans will lose a strong fear, will not hide away and will also make the gorillas less violent hence creating a great, thrilling and exciting experience.
Access to Rushaga sector in Bwindi national park
Rushaga and Nkuringo are the areas in Bwindi national park where the two habituation gorilla families are conducted and also the best area with high gorilla families, gorilla trekking, waterfall hiking, birding, village visits among others in Bwindi national park. Rushaga is located in the southern sector Bwindi national park in Kanungu district and can be accessed from Entebbe international airport in Uganda to Rushaga which takes about 10 hours by road and from Kigali Rwanda connecting through Cyanika border in Kisoro which takes a 3-hour drive.
Requirements for the gorilla habituation experience
- Long sleeved shirt and trouser
- Insect repellent for the prevention of wild ants and flies
- Study gardening gloves
- Rain jacket/poncho
- Waterproof backpack
- Snacks, packed lunch from the lodge and enough drinking water
- Walking stick provided before trekking
- Porter to carry the backpack and offer help while tracking and is paid separately
- Camera and any other item of your choice
Rules and regulations for gorilla habituation experience
- Keeping in the group to avoid getting lost
- Keeping at least a distance of 7 meters away from gorillas
- Following the rangers/ guides instructions
- Not making a lot of noise while trekking in the forest and while in the presence of the gorillas
- Not going for the habituation process while sick because you can easily pass on the disease to the gorillas which may lead to death
- Not using flash cameras while taking photos
- Not eating or smoking in the presence of the gorillas
- Being physically fit because it’s a long day experience with difficult trekking through the forest
Gorilla habituation lodging
There are several luxuries, midrange, budget lodges and camps in Rushaga which provide high-quality services, sleeping services, meals among others. Visitors interested in gorilla habituation are supposed to sleep near the Rushaga because they have to wake up very early in the morning for gorilla habituation process and the lodges around include clouds mountain lodge that is 40km from Rushaga, gorilla safari lodge, gorilla valley lodge, Rushaga gorilla camp, Nshongi camp, Ichumbi lodge among others.
Cost of a gorilla habituation permit in Rushaga Bwindi national park
Gorilla habituation permits can be booked directly from Uganda Wildlife Authority or from a trusted tour operator like achieves global safaris which cost $1500 per person compared to $600 per person for gorilla trekking and bookings are done early six months prior to the actual day because the permits are highly demanded. Each day each gorilla family is visited by four people. Gorilla habituation process can be done throughout the year with the best time being between December to March and July to October.
Apart from gorilla habituation, Bwindi national park offers other activities to visitors which include Gorilla tracking which is the major and most interesting activity in Bwindi national park. It requires trekking for long distances in search of mountain gorillas depending on where they slept the previous night. Gorilla tracking starts early in the morning in Buhoma sector, Ruhija sector, Rushaga sector and Nkuringo sector at 8:30am and takes 1-7 hours. Bwindi national park has over 450 mountain gorillas and four Gorilla groups available for tracking daily which include Mubare, Habinyanja, Rushegura and Nkuringo families and a maximum of eight people per day are allowed to track gorillas and offered one hour in the presence of the gorilla families once found. During gorilla tracking you will be able to see other primates like chimpanzees, blue monkeys, black and white monkeys, l-hoest monkeys, grey-chested mangabeys among others.
Nature walks in the Munyanga river trail which is located outside the park and can also be done without a guide because it’s a short walk and you will be able to spot birds, primates, tree ferns, orchids among others, waterfall trail where you will view butterflies, the three waterfalls, Muzubijiro loop trail where you will view Bwindi forest, western rift valley, the Virungas, Ivo river which is the longest trail in the park and good for bird watching, Rushura trail which takes three hours and has a great view across the western rift valley and the floor Virunga national park in the west, Buhoma village tourist walk which takes three hours through Buhoma and will see the practices of the Bakiga and Batwa people, the local community activities which include farming, making traditional medicines, brewing local beer, performing local dances by the Batwa, traditional crafts among others which gives an interesting experience to the visitors about the local cultures.
Bird watching, Bwindi national park is a home of over 350 birds with 23 endemic of the Albertine rift valley and birding is best done in Ruhija sector, Buhoma waterfall along the bamboo zone and Mubwindi swamp trail in Ruhija sector with bird species like blue-headed sunbird, warbler, white tailed blue flycatcher, brown necked parrot, Frasers eagle owl among others.
Mountain biking, is an activity that is organized by the Buhoma community rest camp and takes 13km and 6-7hours to Ivi river with trained guides in birding, culture among others, the trail on top has a great scenic view for wildlife animals like monkeys, bushbucks among others.
Hiking which is done on foot and with a guide, takes five hours from Buhoma to Nkuringo and three hours to Lake Mutanda and then use a wooden dugout canoe for one hour crossing the lake to get to Kisoro and then continue to Mgahinga for volcano climbing if interested, the Rushura hill walk which is the most popular trail in Bwindi and takes one day hike from north to south Nkuringo where you can spend an overnight and continue to lake Mutanda in Mgahinga national park, Rushura walk is a great spot to view Lake Edward, Lake George, Mount Rwenzori, Virunga volcanoes among others.
Gorilla habituation experience accompanied by other activities like gorilla trekking, birding among others in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park gives you a fascinating, memorable and enjoyable lifetime experience on your safari in Uganda.