Encountering mountain gorillas in their natural habitat is what we call gorilla trekking. One of the areas where mountain gorilla trekking is carried out is Mgahinga national park. Mgahinga national park is located in the extreme southwestern corner of the country in the Kisoro district. The national park was a gazette in 1991 to protect endangered mountain gorillas which were getting to extinction at the time.
Gazetting Mgahinga national park helped in the protection of mountain gorillas and there is a change in the population. The Batwa pygmies at the time of gazetting the park was evicted out to stop poaching which was high at the time. After gazetting Maghinga national park a team of rangers and researchers started the habituation of some of the three mountain gorillas.
The mountain gorilla family which was habituated was named Nyakagezi because of the area where they used to hang out a lot. Nyakagezi went for habituation for 2 years because by 1993 it was opened for trekking activities. It’s the same Nyakagezi family available in the park and tourists can trek it at any time of the year.
Ugnad Wildlife does manage and controls activities that take place in Mgahinga national park and one of them is gorilla trekking. Because mountain gorillas need a lot of monitoring and care to survive, tourists do pay money to do that work. A gorilla permit is a card tourists need to buy to encounter mountain gorillas of Nyakagezi in Mgahinga national park.
Uganda Wildlife Authority sells each gorilla permit at UGX250,000 citizens of East African member states, $600 foreign residents, and $700 foreign nonresidents. Only 8 gorilla permits are in Mgahinga national park and you need to purchase one in advance of 3 to 4 months. With a gorilla permit, you will be allowed to trek with a mountain gorilla family at Mgahinga national park.
How is gorilla trekking done in Mgahinga national park?
On the very day of gorilla trekking, tourists wake up early in the morning at their lodges and meet their diver guides to take them to the headquarters. It will take a few hours and tourists will be driven to the Ntebeko visitors center where all trekkers gather. Here rangers teach the rules and regulations of gorilla trekking so tourists know how to behave while in the jungle.
After briefing, rangers, and trekkers do drive to the starting point of the trek. Here the armed ranger guides lead the trek and using different trails they start searching for where the apes could be. Searching goes to different areas of the jungle looking for where the mountain gorillas could have passed, nested, or eaten food from. Rnagers also trace apes using footprints.
Trekkers are in the jungle with ranger guides for 2 to 7 hours but all people should know that there is a 99% chance of meeting the Nyakagezi mountain gorilla family. When the mountain gorilla family is found the trekkers are asked to follow rules and 1 hour is given to be around them.
During the time given around the mountain gorillas, trekkers do get an opportunity to take photos, record videos, and see if their behaviors are really like those of human beings since scientists say they are close relatives. Trekkers do also get a chance to watch them play, hunt, silverback patrol, eat, breastfeed and groom their babies.
When one hour is given gets done, trekkers move away from the mountain gorilla family and they trek out of the jungle. Moving to the jungle and coming out does come with an opportunity of meeting different wildlife like the birds, primates, and mammals of the park. Trekkers are driven to Ntebeko again where they pick up their trekking certificates.
Mountain gorilla trekking is a thrilling activity every traveler that has dreamt of seeing mountain gorillas should do. Apart from Mgahinga national park, gorilla trekking can be carried out in Bwindi impenetrable forest national park in Uganda, Volcanoes national park in Rwanda, and Virunga national park in DR Congo.
The mountain gorilla population is slowly increasing in all countries and a big thanks to government bodies that have put in a lot of effort in conserving these mountain gorillas. There are now more than 1100 mountain gorillas in the world and we believe the population keeps on increasing with time and these mountain gorillas will no longer be on the list of endangered animals.
For tourists looking for the best time to visit Mgahinga national park for trekking, it’s the dry season. June, July, August, September, December, January, and February are the best times to go gorilla trekking. This is because the weather is good with too much sunshine and little rainfall. Trekking trails are dry meaning they are easy to go through, vegetation is short with good views and roads to the park are easy to go through even though dusty.