Is gorilla trekking safe? Those are some of the questions we receive. There has been a recent threat of Ebola in Congo and also the considerable size of a fully grown silverback, we usually receive questions regarding security and safety during gorilla trekking.
Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo receive considerable revenue from the money collected for gorilla trekking. A gorilla permit in Congo costs $450, in Uganda $700 and in Rwanda $1500.
At peak, about 200 people track mountain gorillas in these countries each day. The total amount collected is quiet considerable for developing countries. In order to protect this important source of foreign exchange, the countries are willing to go to great length to protect the primates and tourists that come to see them.
To that end, gorilla conservation programmes have been initiated to protect the gorillas using some of the money collected from tourists. Most of the national parks employ armed rangers to look out for poachers. The government also deploys the military to flush out any rebel elements using the parks as refuge. Border patrols by the army help monitor any security incidences that could jeopardize the security of tourists.
Mountain gorillas are very calm and peaceful creatures considering their size and strength. They are often referred to as “the gentle giants of the forest”. You will be visiting habituated gorilla families. Habituated gorilla groups are those that are used to humans being around them – a process that takes 2 years. But like any other wild animal, care must be taken and rules followed during gorilla tours.
Is gorilla trekking Safe?
Regarding the security and safety in the gorilla tracking countries, we would like to start by saying that the people of Uganda, Rwanda and Congo are extremely friendly, kind and open to foreign visitors.
Uganda and Rwanda are generally peaceful and secure countries but like any other country, one should exercise caution while in large cities. There is a real threat of pickpockets in the large cities.
Uganda’s tourism industry was negatively affected by the Kony rebellion in the northern part of the country about 10 years ago but peace has now been fully restored and the rebels long flushed out.
Security and safety during gorilla trekking in Rwanda
Rwanda is considered to be one of the safest countries in the world. The chances of being mugged or stolen in Rwanda may be lower than in your own country. Security is tight in Rwanda and police can be seen almost everywhere.
Security in the national parks is equally tight and there are almost no cases of poaching in Rwanda today. Rebel elements from neighboring countries have no chance in the Volcanoes National Park given the heavy military and police presence. How about you the tourists? All tourists are escorted with armed rangers while trekking gorillas in Rwanda.
Is it Safe to Track Gorillas in Virunga National Park Congo?
The Democratic Republic of Congo is still unstable in some parts especially the eastern part. The good news is that we are talking about a very large country. Major political storms in the capital and unrest in some remote areas don’t necessarily spread to all parts of the country.
The Virunga national park has been secure and open to tourist for some time until the kidnap of british tourist and the recent killing of the Italian Ambassador to D. R. Congo. Virunga is one of the best managed parks in Africa. It has one of the best lodges in East and Central Africa.
The stakeholders include conservationists, local and international staff. The management of Virunga National park takes the security of visitors on a gorilla safari in Congo seriously and will go to great lengths to ensure visitors to the park are protected – including closing the park if necessary.
Visitors to Virunga are always escorted by armed guards and wardens who are always on the lookout for poachers and other armed groups. A visitor to Virunga National Park needs to adjust and get comfortable seeing more armed personnel and guns than usual.
The park also benefits from the presence of a large contingent of UN peacekeepers in the nearby Goma town – You will be surprised to find a large diplomatic community in the area.
How safe is gorilla trekking in Uganda?
Uganda has the highest number of mountain gorillas in Africa. They can be seen in two national parks – Mgahinga and Bwindi. Uganda is also a relatively more affordable gorilla tracking destination than Rwanda.
For over 20 years now, there has been no security incidence in Bwindi and Mgahinga Gorilla Park. The government has a standby military base within the parks working with armed rangers and the tourism police. All these armed personnel are well trained, equipped and motivated to keep the park and tourists safe.
Border patrols are done by the Uganda Peoples Defense forces to ensure that no rebel elements take cover in the forests from neighboring countries. The communities living close to the park are involved in all security arrangements. Because they benefit from tourism, they will report any suspicious activities that could threaten travelers.
Safety tips for gorilla trekking
- Book with a good tour operator: Before booking your gorilla tour, ensure that your tour operator is genuine. The tour company must be registered and should have been used by other clients in the past. When making any payments, find out if they have a company bank account or an online payment system. This can only be granted to genuine companies. Avoid send money through money sending services like we.
- Book with a good hotel: It is important to book a good hotel which provides not only comfortable rooms but with stringent security measures in place. Your tour operator can help you select the best hotels with good security policies in place.
- Follow the Gorilla Trekking Rules: Mountain gorillas are very calm and peaceful unless threatened. To avoid irritating them, keep a distance of about 7 meters even when they approach you. Always stick with your group under the leadership of the park Rangers and Guides.
- Moving out of the group without a Ranger could put you in danger. If you leave the group, you will be exposed to an unfamiliar environment and possibly meet wild animals. The armed Rangers know how to scare away any wild animal by shooting in the air.
- Do not look at mountain gorillas directly in the eyes to avoid coming off as a threat. Mountain gorillas are shy primates and looking at them in the eyes for too long may be mistaken for a challenge.
- Speak in low tones and remain calm even when a gorilla charges at you. Simply lay low and act submissive. Shouting and loud noises may drive the primates away or begin to see you as a threat.
- Do not surround the gorilla group while in their midst. Allow them space to move around. As tempting as it is, do not touch a baby gorilla. The silverback could come for you assuming that you want to harm his offspring.
- Dress correctly to limit injury: Whereas the gorilla trekking rules are important, you also need to plan for what to wear while tracking gorillas in the African jungle. Pack sturdy hiking boots to deal with the unpredictable and slippery terrain. Long–sleeved shirts and long trousers will protect you from insects and sharp tree branches. Sunscreen, Sunglasses and a hat are excellent for protecting you against the sun. To protect yourself from the rains, pack a warm sweater and rain jackets.
- Request for an easier hike: If you doubt your fitness or are an elder, we recommend that you let your tour operator know about it before booking your gorilla tour. On the day of briefing, the Rangers will allocate gorilla families based on fitness among other factors.
- If you are unfit or an elder, insist on tracking a gorilla group that is closer to the starting point to avoid having to hike for long distances. If you think that you are fit enough, you should go for the medium or more difficult hike.