The guidelines for trekking the endangered Mountain gorillas are designed to protect the extraordinary primates that share close relation to humans (with 98.2% DNA). Their relatedness with mankind makes them very susceptible to a lot of diseases that also affect humans especially communicable diseases such as cough, flue, Tuberculosis that have even more detrimental effect on their lives. Only about 1063 of these Giant Apes are left in the whole World and everything has to be done to protect them from getting extinct hence guidelines of conducting the activity.
Governments of Uganda, Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo (through their Governing Authorities of Uganda Wildlife Authority, Rwanda Development Board and Institut Congolais la Conservation de la Nature respectively) drafted a number of guidelines to be followed during gorilla trekking to protect visitors and mountain gorillas alike. These guidelines are usually issued at the Park Headquarters during briefing and direct travellers on the dos and don’ts before embarking on gorilla trekking, during the adventures as well as the Health guidelines.
Guidelines to follow prior to undertaking gorilla trekking;
- Trekkers have to be above the age of 15 years to undertake gorilla trekking through the jungles of Bwindi, Mgahinga, Virunga and Volcanoes but there is presently no maximum age limit for this adventure and because of this, even 80-year olds can trek the mountain gorillas. However, elderly travellers are advised to book for sedan chairs because they might not match-up with the physical demands of gorilla treks.
- Only about 8 visitors and 4 tourists are allowed to take part in gorilla trekking and habituation Experience respectively and this limitation is placed to reduce any possible behavioral changes and exposure to communicable diseases and also, huge crowds generally stress the Giant Apes thus likely to cause charging.
- Visitors are not allowed to trek mountain gorillas when feeling sick, especially with communicable diseases and Park Rangers have the authority to deter any visitor from joining in the gorilla trek, if confirmed sick. Your gorilla trek can be scheduled for another time when you are well or better still, the money paid for gorilla permits can be refunded.
- Hand washing with soap and clean water is recommended for visitors to avoid spreading pathogens to the mountain gorillas. Make sure that you attentively listen to the advice of Park Rangers to avoid falling victim to silverback’s charging.
Guidelines to be followed while trekking/searching for mountain gorillas
- Keep in your group at all times and religious follow the lead of the Park guides, fundamental to ensuring your safety as well as avoiding any possibility of getting lost in the jungles. Remember that mountain gorillas live in dense forests and guides have to create paths with machetes through the forest.
- The forest has to be kept clean at all times by practicing the principle of “pack it in, pack it out to because rubbish in form of thrown handkerchiefs, cans, polythene, used water bottles and food wraps as well as food particles not only act as breeding places for germs but can be swallowed by animals thus causing constipation and death.
- Travellers must keep voices low while trekking through the jungles, not to scare away other animals, birds and butterflies in the forest. However, always feel free to ask the Ranger guide any Gorilla or the National Park-related questions.
Guidelines to be followed while viewing and photographing mountain gorillas
- A maximum of one hour should be spent in the presence of the mountain gorillas for observing and photographing the Giant Apes. While the allotted time for standard gorilla treks is 60 minutes, the Ranger guide has the power to prematurely end the viewing time under some circumstances that include; when the gorillas get irritated thus it is crucial to avoid provoking them.
- A minimum distance of 7 meters (or 21 feet) has to be maintained between mountain gorillas and visitors while trekking and during viewing/photographing to avoid being a stress factor to their daily routines and if they get stressed, chances of becoming aggressive is high. This distance has to be followed at all times and even when they approach, slowly move back without drawing attention. Additionally, don’t try to touch these Great Apes even when they get closer to you because they might mistake it for provocation.
- Mountain gorillas are still wild animals even after being habituated and therefore likely to charge (for a number of reasons) and if it happens, crouch down and don’t begin running because that’s the point you might get attacked.
- Don’t eat, smoke eating or drink in the presence of the mountain gorillas, to avoid being approached by mountain gorillas out of curiosity as well as minimizing the spread of human diseases (from falling food particle).
- Voices have to be lowered when watching and photographing the mountain gorillas but always feel free to ask any gorilla questions.
- Flash cameras are not allowed during photography to avoid scaring and irritating the mountain gorillas. You wouldn’t want your gorilla experience cut short because of a silverback charging.
Important health Guidelines to be followed by gorilla trekkers
- Coughing and sneezing isn’t allowed in the presence of the mountain gorillas but because they are sometimes involuntary, your mouth has to be covered with handkerchief, then turn away from these Giant Apes to avoid spreading any pathogens that are likely to affect the lives of these endangered Giant Apes.
- The limit in number of visitors (8 persons) issued by Uganda Wildlife Authority, Rwanda Development Board and Institut Congolais la Conservation de la Nature has to be followed at all times and avoid joining other groups to which you were not allocated to avoid crowds that could stress the Great Apes as well as eliminating any possible spread of diseases.
- Visitors are always given the opportunity to use toilets after briefing because there are none within the Park. However, sometimes call of nature is unavoided and if you ever find yourself in such a situation, a pit of about 30 centimeters will be dug by the Park Ranger and has to be covered immediately after use.