The ancient impenetrable forest is mainly famous for the presence of the Gorillas and Gorilla trekking which is the most popular adventure in the park. In January 2014, Uganda wildlife Authority which is the body responsible for the governing and management of game parks in Uganda introduced Gorilla habituation as a new tourist activity at the game park. Habituation of Gorillas can be described as the process of getting Gorillas used to the sight and presence of human beings. So, a Gorilla Habituation experience involves a visitor or tourist taking part in the process of getting gorilla families used to the sight and presence of human beings. This unique activity only takes place in Uganda amongst the three countries with Mountain Gorilla populations. It only takes place in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Rushaga and Nkuringo sectors.
The main difference between Gorilla trekking and gorilla habituation as tourist activities is the cost and time spent with the gentle giants. Gorilla Habituation only takes place in the southern part of the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest known as Rushaga sector. Habituation of these Gorillas takes from 2-5 years for the giant Ape family to get comfortably used to the presence and sight of people. This process involves different types of experts including conservationists, researchers, trackers and rangers. As opposed to Gorilla trekking that restricts its number to 6 visitors per day, The Gorilla Habituation experience further restricts the number to 4 visitors per. Also, the Gorilla Habituation experience takes place for 4 long hours excluding the time spent searching for them, unlike the Gorilla Trekking experience that lasts one hour.
Usually, the journey begins from the Ruhija visitor center, led by an expert tracker and ranger for purposes of locating the mountain Gorillas and safety of the tourists, and a researcher. Normally, the experience involves a long walk to the middle of the forest before the habituation process of Gorillas commences. During the habituation experience, one should keenly follow the rules and regulations from the tour guide for example keeping 8 meters away from the Gorillas always. Also, be keen to monitor and watch how the experts habituate the giant Apes for example, imitating gorilla behaviors like mimicking their vocals, walking on knuckles just like they move, chewing on vegetation. For 4 long hours, visitors shall be involved in observing and learning how Gorilla behaviors adapt to the sight and occurrence of human beings. Other activities like photography can take place while excluding the flashlight as this is not allowed during The Gorilla habituation experience.
Currently, Uganda has 37 gorilla families and only 19 families are fully habituated and are free around people. Apparently 2 Gorilla families are still undergoing habituation in Rushaga sector of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. The Gorilla families include Habinyanja, Mubare and Rushegura which are found north of the game park in Buhoma, at the far East in Ruhija, the gorilla families include, Kyaguriro, Bitikura, and Oruzogo Gorilla families. In the southern part of the park and forest Rushaga has families like Mishaya, Bweza, Nshonji, Busingye, Kahunje, and the famous nkuringo group. However, it’s in Rushaga where we have the current two families under habituation and its these two that are tracked down during the current Gorilla habiuation process in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.
The Gorilla Habituation Experience involves tourists getting the deeper understanding of Gorilla behaviors to the point of naming the different Gorillas and the nests of the different Gorillas, Gorilla nests can be identified by trackers and rangers who usually tell from the size of nests or to look for silver hairs in the nest in search of a silverback or to know whether its young or an adult Gorilla. At the end of this breathtaking experience, tourists are awarded a certificate of participation in the habituation of Mountain Gorillas. And the Gorillas are also assessed to notice and study their progress in getting used to the sight of people.
This exciting and unique activity is a once in a life time experience, unlike the Gorilla Trekking permit that costs USD 700, the Gorilla Habituation permit costs USD 1500.This is expensive because Gorilla Trekking and Habituation are the primary revenue source for the continued support and conservation of the mountain Gorillas and your support is extremely important for conservation.
Also, one should note that he/she needs a moderate level of fitness as this activity involves treks over rocky, steep and slippery trails that are on high altitudes in the quest for Mountain Gorillas. Furthermore, one should carry waterproof hiking boots with thick stockings in order to avoid blisters due to over walking, jackets, hat, sun glasses, binoculars and a camera are also advised.
The most favorable time to visit the park is from June to August and December to February because these are dry seasons. Although, Gorilla Habituation can be carried out at any time year-round. Temperatures in the park range between 20-25 degrees throughout the year.