About Mountain Gorillas
The evolutionary paths of mountain gorillas and humans diverged some 800 million years ago, and mountain gorillas are one of the primate species that are humans' nearest relatives, thought to share about 97% of our DNA. Today mountain gorillas are an endangered species, with only about 700 living in the forests of Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
In the 1980s, civil war, hunting, transmission of human diseases, and forest logging led at one point to a dramatic decline in the number of mountain gorillas, but thanks to the understanding and efforts of researchers and animal protection groups around the world, local people, governments, and tourists, the gorilla population today is increasing. In Rwanda in particular, the number of babies born each year is growing steadily.
Mountain Gorilla Trekking
Gorillas can be observed more safely and comfortably in Rwanda than anywhere else in the world. Currently there are 13 habituated groups of gorillas living in the Virunga Volcano region, of which seven can be observed.
In order to protect the gorillas' environment, observation times are strictly limited to a maximum of one hour in the morning for single groups of up to eight people. Gorilla trekking is done together with an ORTPN guide. Trekking time depends on the course as well as luck, and ranges from three to seven hours, including one to three hours to find the gorillas, time spent observing the gorillas, and the return walk.
*Age limit: 16 and over
Guidelines for a gorilla visit
- To minimize human disturbance to the gorilla groups, visitors must maintain a distance of 7 m from the gorillas.
- Spitting in the park is strictly prohibited, especially when close to a gorilla group.
- Once with the group should the occasion arise that you need to cough, please cover your mouth and turn away from the gorillas.
- When with the gorillas, please keep your voice level low and only talk in whispers.
- If you get stung by a nettle, please refrain from crying out loud and try not to make any rapid movements that may frighten the gorillas.
- If a gorilla should charge or vocalize at you, do not be alarmed. Stand still and look away, and never run. The guides may ask you to move slowly away if necessary.
- Never make any rapid movements and do not disturb the vegetation when with the group, as there may be a gorilla hidden behind the leaves.
- Please do not leave litter anywhere in the park.
What to wear
- Wellington boots or hiking boots as well as waterproof raingear are essential when on a gorilla visit.
- The climate in Ruhengeri is unpredictable although you can generally expect both sun as well as rainfall during the day. Ruhengeri is 1,700 m above sea level. It is generally quite cold, particularly in the evening.
- Recommended clothing is long trousers and shirts when in the forest to avoid nettle stings. It is likely that you will get hot whilst walking though the forest and will cool down having reached the gorillas due to the high altitude, so you are advised to bring additional clothing.
Nights are quite cold, so a warm jumper is advisable for the evenings.
Further advice for your visit
- You are strongly advised to bring a water bottle and a small snack although eating, drinking and smoking in the presence of the gorillas is forbidden.
- Photography is permitted, although you may not use a flash and if you are intending to bring a video camera, then this must be cleared with ORTPN and will involve a fee.
- Porters are available to help you with transporting your baggage for a small charge.
- The altitude during gorilla visits may cause difficulties for some visitors, so pace yourself, drink plenty of water and make sure you eat well the day prior to your trip, and eat a substantial breakfast. No one should feel deterred from making this trip.
Gorilla Naming Ceremony
The naming of babies has long been an important part of life in Rwanda, with the birth of a new village member celebrated throughout the village with singing and dancing. Starting in 2005, this naming ceremony was extended to baby gorillas in the Gorilla Naming Ceremony. Researchers, tourists, and donors gather from around the world each June for this splendid ceremony, held together with the local people of Ruhengeri. Many contributions are gathered from gorilla loversboth individuals and groupsand the money is used to protect the gorillas as well as to construct roads and schools in the villages at the base of the mountains and develop the ecotourism environment.