Trekking mountain gorillas is one of the famed experiences done in Eastern Africa – Uganda, Rwanda and DR. Congo. These are countries that are so lucky to host some of the world’s most sought after primates. So many tourists wonder if gorilla trekking comes with no risks. So is gorilla trekking safe?
There are approximately 1000 mountain gorillas only, with a bigger number (about 680) known to be thriving within the Virunga region – a conservation area that encompasses the iconic Mgahinga national park in Uganda, Volcanoes national park in Rwanda and Virunga national park in D.R. Congo. The other prime gorilla destination is Bwindi impenetrable national park in Uganda, which is home to about 400 mountain gorillas.
Due to the fact that this is a very rare and one of the most sought after encounters, many travelers from around the globe come to these destinations for a one-on-one encounter with these primates. This immense demand however calls for strict safety guidelines both to protect the mountain gorillas themselves as well as the visitors.
Usually when considering this amazing adventure, the question of safety is on top of the list for many travelers before making their maiden gorilla safari holidays to this part of Africa. Below is a list of major safety and security concerns to consider.
The Gorilla trekking activity
To assure trekkers’ safety during a gorilla trek, different governments have set out rules and guidelines to be adhered to by visitors for their own safety and that of the mountain gorillas. The onsite park rangers and guides are there to help remind visitors of these rules and regulations throughout the entire trek.
Besides the rules and regulations, visitors are protected all the time during a gorilla trek. At least each trekking group is escorted by 2 armed park rangers and tourism police. This is to protect visitors from any likelihood of attacks by wild animals or gorillas themselves. Usually, these armed personnel are required to shoot in the air should such attacks happen to scare away those animals.
A pre-trek briefing is conducted before every gorilla trek, and this is where park rangers clearly explain the general behaviors and how trekkers are expected to conduct themselves while in the jungles. Mountain gorillas, however much they are humble, gentle and known to contain up to 98% of human DNA, they are still wild animals and may pose danger if irritated. There are specific rules that ought to be adhered to for a safe and smooth gorilla trek.
A distance of about 7 meters has to be maintained to limit the likelihood of irritating mountain gorillas and spreading contagious diseases.
No eating, drinking and smoking is permitted while in the midst of a gorilla family.
Direct eye contact with the gorillas is prohibited. This is because mountain gorillas are naturally shy creatures, and a direct eye contact may irritate them, which may lead to an attack.
At all times, while trekking or in the presence of a gorilla family, trekkers are required to keep their voices as low as possible. This is to not cause gorillas to charge and eventually attack or run away.
With all these precautions carefully followed, a gorilla trek in Africa is always the safest wildlife encounter.
Safety at accommodation facilities
Most of the safari lodges/hotels/campsites in gorilla destinations are well safe guarded and secure at all times. Other than being situated outside the national parks, these lodges are in extremely safe places with each assigned a tourism police officer and some with private security personnel. Some luxury lodges even go an extra mile and install CCTV Cameras for security surveillance at all times.
Safety within the local Communities
Previously the communities were posing threats to the security of both mountain gorillas and visitors. They were poaching and viewing visitors as their enemies. But after extensive sensitization programs, the local communities have come to appreciate the need for conservation of mountain gorillas.
They now work as porters, rangers and park guides. Others tourism has improved their livelihoods through purchasing local crafts and souvenirs and more.
All in all, gorilla trekking in Africa is generally safe; with an exception of Virunga national park in D.R. Congo which has had many civil unrest in the recent past, but nonetheless tourism activities have resumed normally. Always observe set precautions and advice by your booking agency, park rangers, guides or even local communities so as to have the best and safe gorilla trekking encounter.