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Gorilla Habituation Experience In Bwindi Impenetrable National Park

Gorilla habituation or gorilla habituation experience in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park Uganda Safari is a slow and gentle process of training wild gorillas to get used to the sight and presence of non-threatening humans for research, gorilla trekking tourism, and conservation purposes.

The gorilla habituation process takes about 2-3 years and it is carried out by a team of researchers/scientists, trackers, conservationists, and park rangers.

In Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, after one year of gorilla habituation, visitors on Uganda gorilla safaris are also offered a chance to participate in the gorilla habituation experience.

The rewards of this encounter allow 4 visitors (not 8 like on normal Uganda gorilla treks) to accompany researchers and rangers into the ‘impenetrable forest’ to spend a maximum of 4 hours with a given gorilla family at a time beating the 1-hour exposure allowed for Uganda gorilla trekking tours.

The Uganda gorilla habituation experience safari is more expensive (the gorilla habituation experience permit costs US$1500) than the standard Uganda gorilla trekking permit which costs US$700, but values-wise you get a lot more in return; 4 hours with a family of mountain gorillas, fewer participants, and a more significant learning experience.

How is Gorilla Habituation Done? | How To Habituate Wild Gorillas?

The gorilla habituation process involves a series of intense exchanges between researchers, rangers, and gorillas.

First habituators have to look out gorilla traces like cracking branches, vocalization, and particular scents to locate the gorillas.

The initial visual encounter between the gorillas and researchers is always tense and stressful. Presumably unsure if the habituators are there with good intentions or plan to harm them, gorillas keep on threatening to attack/charging.

In turn, the habituators lift sticks while making calming grunts and carefully keeping a safe distance of 15 meters.

The researchers also have to observe gorillas’ bodily gestures and their vocalizations, and react to these by, for example, grunting back in response to gorilla grunts and imitating their behavior: sitting, plucking, and eating leaves, scratching their bodies whenever the gorillas do so. This is intended to make the gorillas get attracted and come and see what is happening.

This is done every day for about a year and slowly, slowly the distance between rangers and gorillas reduces as the gorillas get more used to the presence of people.

In Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park, after one year of habituating the gorillas, tourists on Uganda gorilla tours are offered a chance to take part in the process via Gorilla Habituation Experience. This is intended to enable gorillas to get used to new faces, skin color, and cameras.

After two years, gorillas are usually close to properly habituated and they allow people to approach very close.

The researchers and rangers make the final determination when the gorilla group is ready for regular Uganda gorilla trekking encounters.

How Did Gorilla Habituation Start? | History of Gorilla Habituation

Gorilla habituation started in Rwanda after Von Beringe a  German colonial army Captain and, later, other western scientists (George Schaller, Louis Leakey, and Dian Fossey) ‘discovered’ the mountain gorillas.

Notably, it was Dian Fossey who camped in the rainforest of Rwanda in the Volcanoes National Park to make to ‘make friends with the gorillas’, eventually habituating them to human presence.

Before her work, gorillas had a terrible reputation as violent beasts, and tales from hunters suggested that if anyone got too close they would charge to kill.

Fossey demolished this myth and showed to the world that these huge apes are in reality gentle giants, with individual personalities and interesting social lives; they’re like us in many ways.

Fossey’s early work of making gorillas her friends was painstakingly difficult. To get close to them, she had to imitate their behavior like feeding, munching on celery stalks, or scratching herself. Her patience later paid off.

She gained the trust of the mountain gorillas and could observe them undisturbed. She soon started to see which gorillas belonged to which gorilla family group and learned the key role of a dominant “Silverback” male in each family. This method of gaining their trust is what is known as habituation. It was Dian Fossey’s great gift to the world.

Despite his great work, Fossey did not enjoy universal popularity, and she made many enemies amongst local Rwandans including poachers and those who wished to convert the gorillas’ habitat to farmland.

Sadly she was found murdered at her research station in 1985. She is buried on the slopes of Mt Karisimbi along with her gorilla friends including her favorite whom she called ‘Digit’.

Gorilla habituation was introduced in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in 1993 with the habituation of the Mubare Gorilla family just after the reserve was gazetted a National Park in 1991.

Currently, there are 19 fully habituated gorilla families in Bwindi for gorilla trekking safaris in Uganda including:-

  1. Mubare Gorilla Family
  2. Habinyanja Gorilla Family
  3. Rushegura Gorilla Family
  4. Katwe Gorilla Family
  5. Binyido Gorilla Family
  6. Kahungye Gorilla Family
  7. Bweza Gorilla Family
  8. Busingye Gorilla Family
  9. Mishaya Gorilla Family
  10. Nshongi Gorilla Family
  11. Kutu Gorilla Family
  12. Mucunguzi Gorilla Family
  13. Bitukura Gorilla Family
  14. Oruzogo Gorilla Family
  15. Kyaguliro Gorilla Family
  16. Mukiza Gorilla Family
  17. Nkuringo Gorilla Family
  18. Bushaho Gorilla Family
  19. Christmas Gorilla Family

Where Can You Do The Gorilla Habituation Experience in Bwindi Uganda?

Gorilla habituation experience in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is only offered in the Rushaga sector in the southern region of Bwindi.

Rushaga is situated at an altitude of 1,900 meters above sea level. The sector is characterized by steep valleys dripping with giant tree ferns, stream-filled fissures in cliffs, and towering rocks-wall atrium that contains a cascade of over 30 meters.

Rushaga also offers terrific views across deep jungle-clad valleys of Bwindi and southwestern Uganda, as well as a glimpse of the Virunga volcanoes.

Aside from gorillas, the sector is home to a variety of bird species including the brilliantly colored Rwenzori turacos and Shelley’s Crimsonwing. It harbors the rare L’Hoest’s monkeys, Blue monkeys, Red-tailed monkeys, black-and-white colobus monkeys, and unhabituated Chimpanzee communities.

Getting to Rushaga from Kampala/Entebbe by road takes around 9 to 10 hours. By air, it is about a 90-minute flight from Entebbe International Airport or Kajjansi Airstrip to Kisoro airstrip where our driver guide meets you for a 45-minute drive to Rushaga.

You can also fly into Rwanda and undertake a gorilla habituation experience safari to Uganda. This is the shortest route if you want to spend less time on their gorilla safaris in Uganda.

You can incorporate your gorilla habituation experience tour into a 2-day gorilla trekking Bwindi tour, 3-day gorilla trekking Uganda and so many other Uganda gorilla safari packages. We will create the Uganda gorilla safari tour that is suited for you. 

How Many Gorilla Family Groups Are Available For Gorilla Habituation Experience in Bwindi’s Rushaga Sector?

One gorilla family (Bikyingi Gorilla family) is currently the only gorilla group available for gorilla habituation experience in Bwindi’s Rushaga sector

Bikyingi gorilla family is the only gorilla group in the Rushaga sector of Bwindi which is an available gorilla habituation experience.

Bikyingi has been under habituation since 2019 and as of 2021, it is about a few months to 1 year to be confirmed for normal gorilla trekking. The family contains 12 members including 2 silverbacks, 1 black back, 4 adult females, and 5 infants.

Besides, Bikyingi, Rushaga sector is home to 8 full habituated gorilla families including Nshongi Gorilla Family, Mishaya Gorilla Family, Kahungye Gorilla Family, Bushingye Gorilla Family, Bweza Gorilla Family, Mucunguzi Gorilla Family, Rwigi Gorilla Family, Kutu Gorilla Group

What is Gorilla Habituation Experience in Bwindi Like?

Gorilla habituation experience is a special Uganda gorilla safari tour experience that involves only 4 tourists accompanying researchers and Uganda Wildlife Authority Rangers into Bwindi Impenetrable Forest on foot in search of a semi-habituated gorilla family and spend 4 hours with them.

Since it takes a much longer time compared to Uganda gorilla treks where travelers spend 1 hour with a gorilla family, visitors on gorilla habituation experience safaris are advised to wake up very early at 6.00 am and transfer to park headquarter for a briefing on safety and rules.

The activity normally starts at 7.30 am and is a whole day experience. Often, it is more physically challenging than the normal Uganda gorilla trekking tours.

In the normal experience of gorilla trekking in Uganda, trackers have already found the gorillas and they take you directly to them.

But this 4-hour experience of gorilla habituation, you start from where the gorillas were last seen the previous evening.

You hike with the trackers and track the gorillas, learning the tell-tale signs that eventually lead to the primates’ nests, such as knuckle prints in the mud, bent, and broken vegetation, and discarded food.

As you track you may have the opportunity to see a variety of other unique forest creatures like L’Hoest’s monkeys, Blue monkeys, Red-tailed monkeys, Black-and-white colobus monkeys, birds, butterflies, reptiles, amphibians, and unique plant species.

The real gorilla habituation adventure starts when you get face-to-face with these incredible apes. You should note that the point of gorilla habituation is to follow the group and stay in their vision as they move, eventually getting closer to reach that magical 7-meter distance.

But unlike fully habituated groups who wander around patiently during your permitted hour, these gorillas move fast to feed, dashing through dense rainforest, storming up and down slippery slopes, and crawling on knuckles through bushes, with you and the tracker team in hot pursuit. This activity is not for the unfit or fainthearted.

Although all gorillas are wild, some are wilder than others and these semi-habituated ones have an air of unpredictability about them.

There is a heightened risk of the silverback charging, but it’s almost always a warning rather than an attack – your trackers will have briefed you to stay calm, crouch down and avert your eyes.

When they’re still, you stay still, mimicking their behavior to make them feel at ease. You crouch down when they do, copy them picking up grass pretending to eat it, and talk to them in gorilla language, a series of vocalizations that have specific meanings.

To have a gorilla reply to your low throaty rumbling, signifying contentment, is utterly spine-tingling. After your four hours with the gorillas, you return to the briefing point for debriefing.

Benefits Of Gorilla Habituation Experience On YOur Uganda Gorilla Safari

  1. You Are Supporting The Crucial Work Of Habituating The Gorillas And Ensuring Their Future Existence.

By participating in the Gorilla Habituation Experience you are supporting the crucial work in habituating gorillas and ensuring their survival.

Wild gorillas are habituated so researchers can study the species, treat them for sickness and injuries, protect them from hunters, and boost their conservation efforts with sustainable tourism of Gorilla trekking in Uganda.

Gorilla Habituation Experience will help to ensure that they will eventually become fully comfortable in the company of humans.

  1. Gorilla Habituation Experience Offers More Time With Gorillas.

Visitors who undertake a 1-hour encounter of gorilla trekking in Uganda often say that they want more time with gorillas.

The exclusive gorilla habituation experience offers a 4-hour encounter with the mountain gorillas, offering a more relaxed and enriching encounter with these endangered great apes of Africa.

It is indeed a great chance to immerse yourself in the world of mountain gorillas as they continue to go about their daily lives – feeding and interacting with each other, under the watchful gaze of the mighty silverback.

  1. Gorilla Habituation Experience Means Few Participants

Another reason visitors on Uganda gorilla tours should go for a habituation experience is that there are only 4 visitors instead of the usual 8 as on a regular Uganda gorilla trek. You are with the researchers Uganda Wildlife Authority Rangers.

  1. You are an Active Participant in the Habituation Process and not Just an Observer as During a Gorilla Trek.

Your presence makes you a participant in the habituation process where the Gentle Giants become used to the presence of humans.

You being an active participant in the Habituation Process is that extra plus for many. The hands-on experience is for many the deciding factor.

The reason that they choose to do the Gorilla Habituation Experience instead of the regular Gorilla Trek.

  1. Gorilla Habituation Experience Offers The Best Photo Opportunities On Your Uganda Gorilla Trip.

Uganda’s Gorilla Habituation Experience is among the world’s foremost primate photography encounters.

It offers more time to capture the perfect shot.  However, taking photographs of gorillas can still be challenging, due to the light conditions and the unpredictable distance between you and the gorillas.

You should ensure that you’re as prepared as possible to get the best photos. Make sure that your batteries are fully charged and you have plenty of space on your memory cards.

Bring waterproof bags or covers for your camera as the rainforest climate means it can rain any time of year.

  1. Gorilla Habituation Adventure In Bwindi Is A Learning Experience

Uganda’s Gorilla Habituation adventure is a learning experience. You discover more about the fascinating behaviors, and lifestyle of these great apes, hence getting new insights into one of our closest cousins’ lives.

The Gorilla Habituation Experience Safari Permit in Uganda

To undertake a Gorilla Habituation Experience on your gorilla safari in Uganda, you will need a gorilla habituation permit.

The habituation permit is a legal document which is issued by the Uganda Wildlife Authority that allows visitors above the age of 15 to engage in the habitation process.

It is possible to book the permits directly from UWA, but the most convenient way is to use a reliable tour operator.

Most tour operators include a gorilla habituation permit as part of the overall cost of a Uganda gorilla safari.

Book at least six months ahead of travel to ensure availability since only 4 permits are available every day. The permit is more expensive because guests spend 4 hours with the gorillas rather than just one.

How Much is Gorilla Habituation Permit in Uganda?

The Uganda Gorilla Habituation Experience permit costs:

  • US $ 1,500 for foreign non-residents
  • US $ 1,000 for foreign residents
  • UGX 750,000 for East African Community citizen

Best Time To Go For A Gorilla Habituation Experience in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park

The best time to go for a gorilla habituation experience in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park on your Uganda gorilla safari tour is certainly the traditional dry and warm months of June, July, August, Mid-September, December, January, and February

During these dry months, there is less rainfall that is likely to interrupt your gorilla habituation experience.

The gorilla tracking trails in Bwindi and not very wet compared to the rainy months when the trails are muddy and slippery. Also, access roads to the Rushaga sector are passable.

Where To Stay During Your Uganda Gorilla Habituation Experience Safari in Bwindi?

Since gorilla habituation experience is carried out in the Rushaga sector and starts very early in the norming, visitors are advised to stay in lodges near the sector for easy access to the headquarters for gorilla habituation. Rushaga sector has luxury, midrange, and budget accommodations where visitors can stay including;

  • Clouds Mountain Gorilla Lodge (luxury)
  • Chameleon Hill Lodge(luxury)
  • Mutanda Lake Resort (midrange)
  • Mulehe Gorilla Safari Lodge (midrange)
  • Gorilla Valley Lodge (midrange)
  • Ichumbi Gorilla Lodge (Budget) and others

The lodges offer quality services and facilities like double, twin, single rooms with en-suite bathrooms, sitting room, Restaurant where they serve local and international dishes, bar, free Wi-Fi in public areas, gardens for relaxation among others.

Is Gorilla Habituation Experience in Bwindi Safe?

Uganda gorilla habituation experience safari trips in Bwindi are done in the company of experts including researchers and Uganda Wildlife Authority rangers.

The gorilla you are taken to see, though not fully habituated are halfway through the habituation process, meaning they are a bit used to having people near them.

However, like any other wild animal, gorillas can exhibit defensive behaviors if they feel uneasy, particularly around their young.

The research and guide can easily recognize the signs, they may include ‘mock charging’, the aggressive beating of their chests, and grunting.

Always follow your guide’s lead, but if faced with an aggressive gorilla, crouch down, look away and try to act relaxed. Your guide will advise you further during the pre-gorilla habituation experience briefing.

What Are The Covid-19 Standard Operating Procedures To Observe During A Gorilla Habituation Experience Safari in Bwindi Uganda?

Mountain gorillas are some of man’s closest living relatives sharing about 98.4% of our DNA. They are, therefore, highly susceptible to many of the viruses that we carry including Coronavirus. To keep these forest’s gentle giants safe, the Ugandan governments have established COVID-19 SOPs for Gorilla Habituation Experience:-

  • Travelers on a Uganda gorilla habituation experience safari are required to produce proof of negative COVID-19 test results on arriving at Entebbe International Airport (no older than 72 hours) and again at Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park.
  • All visitors must carry at least two surgical masks, double-layered cloth masks with filters, or N95 masks
  • Mandatory temperature checks and sanitization protocols must be observed at the briefing point.
  • Tourists who, during the briefing, are observed to be sick shall not be allowed to participate in the activity. These include anyone with signs of flu and those who report having diarrhea, stomach upsets, and malaria among others.
  • Before the gorilla viewing commences, all people in the group shall sanitize their hands again.
  • A distance of 2 meters must be maintained between visitors on a gorilla habituation tour in Bwindi
  • Due to the reported side effects of wearing masks for long periods and in high altitudes, visitors shall take frequent breaks during the tracking to give themselves time to breathe fresh air.
  • In case a tourist experiences a health-related problem, UWA staff shall apply the established evacuation and first aid guidelines to move the affected individual from the field.

Other Activities You Can Do in Bwindi Before or After Your Gorilla Habituation Experience Safari in Uganda?

  1. Birding In Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park

The UNESCO World Heritage-listed Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park is one of the finest birding destinations in Africa.

The park hosts 351 of Uganda’s 1074 bird species including the most exciting selection of forest birds on the continent.

There are over 351 bird species of 23 are endemic to Albertine Rift including the gorgeous African Green Broadbill, Handsome francolin, Ruwenzori turaco, African green broadbill, Handsome Francolin, Shelly’s Crimsonwing, Dusky Crimsonwing, Rwenzori turaco, Rwenzori Apalis, Rwenzori nightjar, Rwenzori double-collared sunbird, Purple breasted sunbird, Regal Sunbird, Blue-headed Sunbird, and Grauer’s swamp warbler.

It is even suggested that undescribed species might even be lurking in the park! Birding in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is mainly done in Buhoma and Ruhija sectors.

  1. Hiking/Nature Walks In Bwindi National Park

Hiking/nature walks in Bwindi offers another fantastic way of exploring this impenetrable forest on your Uganda gorilla safari.

Aside from incredible bird species, Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is home to 120 mammal species, 10 species of primates, 220 species of butterflies, and 1000 species of flowering plants. You will have a chance to see many of these creatures including L’Hoest’s, blue, red-tailed, and black-and-white colobus monkeys.

  1. Cultural visits and community walks around Bwindi

After or even before you Uganda Gorilla Habituation Experience in Bwindi, you can explore the villages around to learn about local cultures and the way of life of the people around.

You can undertake an exciting 3-4-hour Reformed Poacher walk, guided by and offering the opportunity to chat to former poachers, takes in two waterfalls close to Rubuguri as well as visits to local smallholdings and a coffee roaster.

The Rubuguri Origins Trail connects several sites feted in local oral history, ranging from a place where the ancestors reputedly left their footprints to gold panning sites.

  1. Visit Lake Bunyonyi For Relaxation

After your adventurous Uganda gorilla habituation experience in Bwindi, you go relax on the magical lake Bunyonyi.

This irregularly-shaped lake and her islands are undisputedly one of the most beautiful areas of Uganda. Dotted with 29 islands, the tranquil lake is the second deepest in Africa.

It is encircled by a ring of intensively cultivated terraced farms in every shade of green imaginable and these vibrant colors accentuate the glassy water like a lovely frame.

It attracts a wide diversity of birdlife – over 200 species – and the name Bunyonyi aptly means ‘place of many little birds.

It’s a scenic spot to relax and swim or take a ride on a traditional dugout canoe, broken only by the sounds of the paddles dipping into the water or the soft banter of local fishermen as they glide by.

Conclusion

Both gorilla trekking and the Gorilla Habituation Experience are incredible opportunities to trek deep into the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest with an experienced tracker, in search of a wild mountain gorilla family.

On the Gorilla Habituation Experience, you’ll get a deeper understanding of gorilla tracking and gorilla behavior than on a normal trek, and you’ll have a greater amount of time to observe and photograph the gorillas.

However, whichever option you choose, tracking mountain gorillas is extraordinary, evoking a deep connection with our closest cousins in a truly enriching and unforgettable experience.

If you have any questions about a gorilla habituation experience safari in Uganda OR a Uganda gorilla safari, please ask us – we can gladly organise a perfect safari experience for you.

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