Guidelines for gorilla trekking in Africa are crucial for the protection of endangered Giant Apes in their natural habitats, given their “endangered” status. With a total World population of about 1080 mountain gorillas living in the mountainous and dense rain forests of south-western Uganda, north-western Rwanda, and the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, they are obviously threatened and still vulnerable. For this reason, several guidelines are implemented by the respective Wildlife Authorities (Uganda Wildlife Authority, Rwanda Development Board, and Institut Congolais la Conservation de la Nature to ensure the protection of mountain gorillas while being trekked by visitors.
While gorilla tourism is significant in the protection of mountain gorillas in their natural habitats (whereby revenue from the adventures are used for paying gorilla doctors, Tourism Police, and Park Rangers as well as ensuring community development), there is a need to be careful while going about gorilla trekking hence the issuing of guidelines at the briefing process and to be followed through the gorilla treks.
Guidelines to be followed before embarking on gorilla trekking
Prior to embarking on a gorilla safari, visitors are required to follow some guidelines that include;
Having a maximum of 8 persons trek a habituated gorilla group in a single day and this is done to reduce/avoid crowds that will expose these Giant Apes to human-borne diseases as well as bring about behavioral changes.
Anyone showing signs and symptoms of communicable diseases especially flu, cough, tuberculosis, and colds should stay away from gorilla trekking in whichever gorilla National Park. These Giant Apes are related to humans (sharing 98.2% DNA) and therefore likely to be affected by these diseases which even have a more detrimental effect on their health than even on humans.
Trekkers have to be of age (15 years and above) and this limitation also comes with a genuine reason. First, young children are unpredictable in behavior and for this reason, you can never determine when they suddenly change mood or reaction towards something, even after being issued guidelines. Also, the physical demands of gorilla trekking through rugged terrains, steep slopes, and dense vegetation may never be met by young children.
For gorilla trekking adventures during the COVID-19 era, trekkers have to present negative Covid-19 results for the last 72 hours, properly sanitize hands and wear face masks to prevent any chances of transferring the disease to mountain gorillas, remember they are related to humans.
Guidelines to be followed while searching for the mountain gorillas
Visitors are cautioned against throwing rubbish in the National Park and therefore practice the principle of “pack it in, pack it out” because rubbish and food leftovers are breeding places for the Giant Apes.
Trekkers should always keep voices low and keenly pay attention to information and instructions being provided by the guides during trekking, not to miss out on the amazing birdlife, plant species, and animals that call the forests home or even not to scare them.
Guidelines to be followed when observing mountain gorillas
Drinking, smoking, and eating close to the mountain gorillas aren’t allowed because food droplets increase the chances of transmitting diseases to the Giant Apes. Visitors will be given some time to have lunch after spending some quality time with the mountain gorillas.
A distance of 8 meters has to be kept from mountain gorillas when watching photographing or recording videos. Because the mountain gorillas don’t understand this rule, it is the responsibility of visitors to keep this in mind, and even when they come closer, slowly move back to avoid scaring the mountain gorillas. Similarly, don’t touch the Giant Apes because regardless of being habituated, they are still wild animals.
Avoid direct eye contact with the mountain gorillas because it makes them tensed and likely to become aggressive and when they do, simply submit by crouching down. Never make the mistake of running because you risk being attacked.
Avoid flash photography for mountain gorillas because it also scares them and you also risk being attacked.
The total time to spend with the Giant Apes is only and strictly one hour but this time is cut short when the mountain gorillas start charging or become agitated. This is done to keep visitors safe from these wild animals.
There are no toilets in the jungles yet nature calls are sometimes unavoidable and if you ever find yourself in such a situation, feel free to inform the guide who will excavate a hole (about 30 centimeters deep) and later fill it after being utilized.