Mountain Gorillas are primates species that live in the forested mountains of Eastern Africa. They are among the rarest primates only found in three countries on the entire planet that are Uganda, Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo. Mountain Gorillas are listed endangered by the IUCN and their total population is estimated at only 1000 individuals in the wild. These live in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in southwestern Uganda and in the Virunga massif a chain of dormant Volcanic mountains along the Rwanda, Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo border.
Mountain Gorillas are covered with thicker fur that enable them endure the cold temperatures of the region that fall below zero degrees. They are pure vegetarian and their diet mainly comprise of plant vegetation. They live in families headed by a dominant male gorilla called silverback. Some of the Mountain gorilla families have up to 20 individuals or more. Just like their name, mountain gorillas live in the mountainous areas. The elevation of Bwindi impenetrable forest for example ranges from 1,190 to 2,607 meters above sea level and that of the Virunga massif ranges from 2,400 to 4,507 meters above sea level.
A hike in the Virunga massif or Bwindi impenetrable forest offers an incredible encounter with the mountain gorillas. This experience has been described by many as a once in a life time experience. There are mainly Four mountain gorilla parks that include Volcanoes National Park Rwanda, Mgahinga gorilla and Bwindi impenetrable Forest national park in Uganda and Virunga national park in Democratic Republic of Congo. Let us look at the main reasons why you should track mountain gorillas in Uganda of all the 3 gorilla trekking destinations in East Africa.
Diverse Gorilla Trekking Ecosystems
Uganda is blessed with 2 mountain gorilla parks. Mgahinga gorilla park is part of the Virunga massif ecosystem encompassing 3 of the Virunga mountains. These include Mount Gahinga, Mount Sabyinyo and Mount Muhabura. These mountains are covered with light bamboo forests that transcends into an Albertine rift montane forest with heath and moorlands and an alpine zone at the higher altitudes of the mountains.
The light bamboo forests are homes to the mountain gorillas and many other mammals in the park. There is only one habituated mountain gorilla family in this park called Nyakagezi that offers intimate and exclusive gorilla trekking experiences. A mountain gorilla trek is more like that in the other Virunga massif parks offering a great and unique primate trekking experience.
Bwindi impenetrable forest national park on the other hand comprises of a number of hills with altitudes ranging from 1,190 to 2,607 meters above sea level. These are covered with a dense afromontane home a to a variety of wildlife species including mountain gorillas. The vegetation and relief of Bwindi is different from the Virunga massif including Mgahinga gorilla park.
Trekking gorillas in Bwindi impenetrable forest offers a completely unique gorilla trekking experience from that of the Virunga massif. The forest is a home to many other primates including colobus monkeys, l’hoest monkeys, chimpanzees some of which seen while gorilla trekking. There are many other mammals in the park like forest elephants, buffaloes, a number of birds among others. It is from this animal and plant life diversity that Bwindi was given a status of a world heritage site by UNESCO.
Uganda has the highest of the remaining mountain gorilla population. Over 450 mountain gorillas live in Bwindi impenetrable forest which is half of the entire population on the planet.
Bwindi impenetrable national park has four major sectors with 22 habituated gorilla families. They include Buhoma the northern sector of the park with 6 habituated families namely Rushegura, Habinyanja, Mubaare, Katwe, Binyindo and Muyambi familes. Ruhija is the eastern sector with Bitukura, Mukiiza, Kyaguriro and Oruzogo families. The southern sector has Rushaga with Bweza, Mishaya, Nshongi, Kutu, Mucunguzi, Busingye, Kahungye and Bikingi families. Also in the south is Nkuringo with Christmas, Nkuringo, Bushaho and Posho families. All these are open for gorilla trekking offering more chances of gorilla trekking and a unique wildlife experience in the park.
Mgahinga gorilla park’s only one habituated gorilla family also adds on the numbers to Uganda’s grand total. If you are therefore looking for the numbers of high chances then Uganda is the right place to track mountain gorillas.
Other primate experiences
The mountain gorilla parks in Uganda are not only homes to mountain gorillas but other primates. Mgahinga gorilla park for example is also home to the golden monkeys that are endemic to the Virunga massif. Mgahinga gorilla park is one of the few places where you can track both mountain gorillas and golden monkeys. Just like their name, golden monkeys are covered with golden fur and also live in families of up to 20 individuals.
You can arrange a golden monkey trek after your mountain gorilla trekking expedition. It also starts with an early morning briefing at the park headquarters from where you are led to the forest where you will meet the golden monkeys amidst sighting of other wildlife species especially birds.
Bwindi impenetrable national park is a sanctuary for chimpanzee and colobus monkeys plus other primates. Much as trails to explore these primates are not fully developed you can spot some of them while on hikes to the gorillas. You can also take guided nature walks in the park where you will get to see a number of the primates.
Tracking gorillas in Uganda generally gives you an opportunity to to see a number of these primates and more wildlife species.
The mountain gorilla parks are surrounded by local communities where you can enjoy authentic community and cultural experiences. The Batwa trail in Mgahinga gorilla park is highly recommended as the Batwa take you back the forest demonstrating their hunting and gathering skills. There are also some Batwa communities near Bwindi impenetrable forest as well as the Bakiga. You can visit any of these communities after the gorilla trek to get to know more about the local people’s ways of life.
Best time to Visit
You can have a mountain gorilla trek in Uganda any time of the year but for best experiences it is better to visit in the dry season. This stretches from June to September and from December to March. During these months there is minimal rainfall disturbances which makes hiking through the different trails a little easy.
During the wet season you can still enjoy your gorilla trek in Uganda. It is also a great time for birding as migratory birds set in from as far as Europe.