For decades gorilla trekking has been among the ultimate travel and wildlife experiences. Spending one hour with a wild mountain gorilla troop, in the mountainous forests of either Uganda or Rwanda.
Only around 1000 mountain gorillas remain. They are the world’s largest primates and none have ever been taken captive – gorillas kept in zoos are the smaller lowland species and a poaching problem was created when zoos like Frankfurt killed entire troops to take away baby gorillas, unsuccessfully.
One hour can feel like a lifetime when you’re surrounded by a troop. But Uganda has started a new and more in-depth gorilla experience. It’s called gorilla habituation.
With a gorilla trek you come into contact with a habituated troop. It takes conservationists up to four years to habituate a troop. Uganda is offering visitors the opportunity to be a part of this habituation process, to visit a troop not fully accustomed to human presence.
Instead of one hour, you spend four hours with conservationists. The troop is in the process of being habituated, so it’s often more tense and unpredictable. Typically that means you can’t get as close. But the experience is four times longer and you’re seeing gorillas that have only ever seen a handful of humans.
The focus is also on being more active in understanding and tracking gorilla behaviour. Visitors are conservationists and researchers for the day, trying to learn about the troop and its many nuances.
It’s not an experience for people who want to simply tick the gorillas off their list, take a few photos and travel onward. This is for the explorer who seeks to experience and study more of a very wild world. You also need to be physically fit, as you will need to trek for upwards of two hours in virgin rainforest and spend a whole day away from any comforts.
Permits currently cost $1500 and there are only four available each day. It’s meant that this is also one of the world’s most sought after wildlife experiences – many people go gorilla trekking, hardly any people get this close.