Meeting the Great Apes: Gorilla Habituation Experience Bwindi
If you are yearning and thinking of how to meet or see the Mountain Gorillas, a Gorilla habituation experience and safari in Bwindi Impenetrable forest’s Rushaga sector is worth the time and money. It is one perfect way to encounter and see these Great Apes.
It is a form of experiential tourism that was introduced by the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA); a semi-autonomous government agency responsible for wildlife in Uganda. The gorilla habituation experience was introduced since 2014 in Bwindi Impenetrable forest and national park to give visitors an in-depth understanding about the Mountain Gorillas.
This kind of safari is one of the most fascinating way to meet the gorillas. Rushaga sector where the Gorilla habituation takes place is located in the southern part of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. The activity gives a person/ tourist more time to visit and see the Gorillas as not with the gorilla trekking safari. On a gorilla habituation safari, the time allowed to see these great Apes while in their presence is 4 hours whereas on a gorilla tracking safari, once visitors come across the Gorillas, they are only allowed one hour to watch them.
Habituating the Mountain Gorillas.
When a new (non-habituated) Mountain Gorilla group is identified, before it is introduced or made available to the tourists for tracking safaris, researchers first subject the group to the habituation process, an exercise which usually last for 2 and more years. It is an activity aimed at introducing wildlife to human /visitor presence, but it is all done with utmost care to avoid altering the wildlife’s natural environment or behavior.
For the Gorilla habituation process, a team of habituators and researchers visit the identified wild Mountain Gorilla group usually on a daily basis to monitor it, the activity lasts from the morning hours, through the day until the process is completed (i.e. till when they see that the group/ gorilla family is ready for tracking or ready to tolerate human presence).
Habituation is aimed at the long-term conservation of the gorillas, when a team of researchers identify a new group of these Great Apes, they constantly keep on monitoring it on a daily basis, to detect its behavior, any possible disease and treat them in case of any harm. Before visitors are allowed to see the gorillas (a new identified family), habituators, researchers and rangers first visit this group for a certain period of time and later they introduce the public to see the group through gorilla habituation experience with a minimal number of people in the group.
It is through the habituation process that a new group is given a name and each of the members in the family.
The first group of the Mountain Gorillas to become available for tracking by visitors in Bwindi Impenetrable forest was in 1993 and as of December 2018, the park has a total of over 18 families in its four locations of Buhoma, Nkuringo, Rushaga and Ruhija
What/ how is the habituation experience and why the habituation safari?
If you have ever imagined of taking part in an impressive African safari, then the gorilla habituation experience is one. It is epic, exquisite and absolutely spellbinding. From that particular moment you think of entering the dense misty mountain jungle of Africa, you will unequivocally love it! Meeting with the Mountain Gorillas of Eastern Africa ranks among Africa’s premier wildlife encounters.
There are two ways to see these primates; one is through the Gorilla trekking safaris and the other way is Gorilla habituation safaris, all are thrilling but the habituation experience explicitly stands out. It is an unimaginable feeling and experience standing just less than 10meters away from the world’s largest Ape or primate for about 4 hours, how is that?
Note that, only a group of 4 people excluding the researchers is allowed to participate in the activity. On your day of this remarkable activity, before you set out to the forest, your habituation guides give you briefing about the whole experience, and afterwards, you set into the forest with them. The habituation safari and experience usually last through the day as you follow an identified group of the gorillas.
This type of safari gives you more time to spend with these mighty giant Apes, and it is your opportune moment to capture some of the best shots of the gorillas. While a gorilla tracking safari, as earlier noted; gives you just an hour in their presence, the habituation safari allows you a mega 4 hours and you will feel how emotional it is to stare in the eyes of the gentle giants. This unthinkable activity and time allowed therefore gives you a clear and in-depth understanding of the Mountain Gorillas.
To see the gorillas on this kind of safari, one needs to be reasonably fit since it is a full day adventure trekking within the forest. You need to wake-up early enough and assemble to the park headquarters with a confirmed permit, here you meet the guides/ habituation team that will take you through the etiquette. Since the activity runs through the day, you carry packed lunch boxes. The forest at dawn, the morning sights, sounds and scents make the experience remarkable.
How much is the permit for gorilla habituation?
While a gorilla tracking permit costs 700 USD for Foreign Non-Residents, 600 USD for Foreign Residents (FR) and 250,000 UGX for East Africans (EAC), the gorilla habituation permit runs for 1’500 USD for FNR, 1000 USD for FR and 750,000 UGX for EAC.
Inclusive of your permit is; the park entry, ranger, activity and conservation fees. You become real champ and hero when you purchase a gorilla permit.
Currently, there are only two groups; Bukingyi & Bushahoin Rushaga the southern sector of Bwindi that are available for habituation safaris. This means a total of only 8 permits in a day and therefore, if you are to participate in the Gorilla habituation experience, you need to reserve your permit well in advance (about 5 months and more) especially during the high or peak season months of June, July, August + September and December, January + February.
You can reserve your permit directly with UWA or best option, with a reputable tour operator like Avens Travel World which can take complete care of all tour components like accommodation, transportation among others so you have a hassle free experience.