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Planning a trek to see mountain gorillas

Mountain gorillas are one of three sub-species of gorilla which have been recorded. All of these gorillas are found in the central regions of Africa, living in and among the rain forests.

The mountain gorillas are the largest and rarest

Only around 650 mountain gorilla individuals remain in a pocket of tropical rain forest and volcanoes along the south west border of Uganda, north west Rwanda and eastern DRC (Congo). These are also the most accessible of the three gorilla sub-species. Each day small groups of 8 people trek out with a local guide and search for the habituated gorilla families. Just 56 permits are available world-wide for a place on one of these treks which makes them highly sort after. The permits are expensive @US$600-750 per person per trek. It is essential to check the availability of gorilla permits before planning the rest of your journey.

See mountain gorillas in Rwanda Courtesy Tim Henshall

Mountain gorillas in Rwanda

Treks last from as little as half an hour to a full day hike depending where the mountain gorillas are searching for food. Most treks are an average of 3 to 4 hrs duration. An average level of fitness is desirable to cope with the steep, muddy slopes! Just one hour is spent observing the gorillas when they are found. The time limit is specifically in place to leave the gorillas in peace for the rest of the day so they can get on with searching for food and just being a mountain gorilla.

Treks are available in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in south western Uganda and Parc National des Volcans in Rwanda. Although this is geographically the same area, the gorillas in Rwanda live on the slopes of the volcanoes and eat bamboo shoots, whilst the mountain gorillas in Bwindi live on the grass, leaves and fruits of the forest. The terrain in these areas are the perfect habitat for the gentle giants of the primate world, if not quite so convenient for humans!

The lowland gorillas are classified into two sub-species

The western lowland gorilla is found among the forests of Congo-Brazzaville, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Cameroon, the Central African Republic (CAR), Nigeria and DRC (Congo). It is thought around 100 000 populate northern Congo alone but this type of gorilla are best viewed in CAR and Cameroon. Treks are currently available only in Odzala-Kokoua National Park due to security risks in the other regions.

The eastern lowland gorilla is rarer and restricted to the lowland and Albertine Rift forests of Eastern DRC. This population is under threat from poaching and it’s estimated a few thousand individuals remain.

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