Is it safe to go gorilla trekking?

Is it safe to go gorilla trekking? Yes, gorilla trekking is generally a safe activity to embark on while in Africa as long as you adhere to the set trekking rules and guidelines. Trekking to encounter mountain gorillas in their natural habitat unfolds with a mix of anticipation, awe, and excitement that you shouldn’t miss out on your African safari tour. Mountain gorillas are an endangered primate species and a few thousand can still be found in Africa. The fact that these massive primates are endangered makes them even more appealing to see thus thousands of travelers from all over the world visit Africa for Gorilla trekking Safaris.

Despite being an exciting safari activity, most travelers are usually concerned about their safety, during the trek. One of the frequently asked questions are; is gorilla trekking safe? Are gorillas dangerous? Is it safe to go gorilla trekking? Since you are trekking to see the largest primate with a male weighing up to 400 pounds and reaching almost 6ft when standing, it is totally understandable to be worried about your safety. However, despite being gigantic, mountain gorillas are gentle animals that do not cause harm to humans and trekking to see them in the wild is generally considered to be safe. Besides being gentle, they are also habituated and accustomed to human presence. During the trek, you will enjoy their peaceful nature as you spend your time observing them up close.

Although mountain gorillas are peaceful primates, it is always important to keep in mind that these primates are still wild animals and their behavior may be unpredictable at times. Mountain gorillas are known to become agitated if they feel threatened and anything that escalates the situation can lead to a gorilla attack. To avoid such scenarios, different Authorities responsible for protecting mountain gorillas and their habitat in different countries have designed a set of rules and guidelines that travelers must follow while trekking mountain gorillas in order to ensure their safety and the safety of mountain gorillas.

In this guide, we will discuss the potential dangers you may face during gorilla trekking, how best you can ensure you are safe during the trek, the best tips for gorilla trekking, and general gorilla trekking rules and guidelines.

Safety Measures for gorilla trekking in Uganda and Rwanda – What guarantees your safety during a gorilla trek?

  1. Safety measures for Trekkers (Visitors) – Is it safe to go gorilla trekking?

Experienced Trackers and Guides

Mountain gorilla trekking tours are conducted by a team of experienced guides and trackers. While on the trek to see gorillas, your safety is in the hands of expert trackers and guides who will guide you through this experience. Given  the precarious situation of the mountain gorillas, it’s a legal requirement to be accompanied by a ranger guide on your trek. The ranger guide is responsible for ensuring that both visitor and gorilla remain safe during an encounter – while allowing an enriching experience  with the gorillas. Their intimate knowledge of the gorilla families will ensure your safety as they can easily read the gorilla behavior and know how to handle the situation.

Readily available Tracking Teams

The readily available tracking teams in different gorilla trekking destinations especially in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable forest will respond to any form of emergency during your gorilla trekking tour. These teams are ready to help whether its is an injury, an illness, adverse weather conditions or any other unexpected scenarios that may arise during the trek. The tracking team is experienced and well-equipped with a number of necessary equipment that can ensure your safety during the trek in the forest. However your safety shouldn’t solely depend on this, we recommend you prepare well for your gorilla trekking tour so that you can have an easy and successful trek in the forest. Cary the right gear for your gorilla trekking tour.

Briefing Sessions

Usually, before you indulge into the forest to search for the endangered mountain gorillas, you are first briefed about the gorilla trekking experience. During the briefing session, you are provided with all the safety precautions and procedures to follow during the trek to ensure both your safety and that of the gorillas and their natural habitat. We recommend that during these sessions you listen carefully and note down the important safety measures that you can follow during your trek. You will be told all the dos and don’t during the trek, and also provided with the set rules and guidelines for trekking gorillas. The briefing session is essential before the trek into the forest.

Armed Ranger guides  

Despite gorillas being gentle animals, they live in thick impenetrable forests that inhabit several other wildlife species including leopards, buffalos, and elephants among other that can occasional occur in these area. To ensure your safety from any kind of threat, be it wildlife or poachers, the ranger guides carry along fire arms. The guns are not meant for shooting at the animals directly but just to scare them away. In case of any threat from wildlife, rangers usually shoot in the skies to scare away wildlife. The guns are meant to ensure your safety during the trek since your safety is the most important thing during the trek.

  1. Measure that protect gorillas and their habitat

Permit restrictions

Being an endangered species, many travelers from all over the world wish to trek mountain gorilla in their natural habitat. This sounds great however this may also impact the gorillas and their habitat negatively. In order to minimize disturbance of gorillas and their natural habitat, the gorilla permits we introduced to restrict and regulate the number of people who can go gorilla trekking. Only 8 members are allowed to trek a gorilla family and each of these members are required to acquire a gorilla trekking permit prior to their visit. A gorilla trekking permit is issued by the responsible Authorities like the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) in Uganda and the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) in Rwanda. They are issued to only individuals above the age of 15 years. You can also acquire a gorilla trekking permit through a reputable tour operator like Acacia Safaris Limited.

These permits are meant to regulate the number of visitors who can trek gorillas per a day thus minimizing disturbance of gorillas and their natural habitat.

Small group size

Only small groups of about 8 individuals are allowed to trek a single gorilla family each day. This small group size aims at minimizing the disturbance of gorillas and distortion of their natural habitat. Although the group size is small, you are still recommended to exercise sustainable tourism during your trek, avoid littering the forest, do not spit on the leaves, do not feed gorillas and also to be respectful of the gorillas and their habitat. This will ensure minimal disturbance of gorillas and their habitat.

Health Precautions

One of the must-adhere gorilla trekking guidelines are the gorilla trekking health guidelines. Mountain gorillas share up to 96% DNA with humans thus making them susceptible to communicable human diseases like cough and running nose (flue). If you are feeling unwell, it is recommended to forego gorilla trekking for their safety. There are also set healthy guidelines that you should follow while in the presence of mountain gorillas such as; covering your mouth in case you feel like sneezing, avoiding spitting saliva on the leaves, and in case you want to ease yourself, dig a hole not less that one feet deep. The safety of mountain gorillas is crucial during a gorilla trekking safari.

Best tips for observing gorillas in the wild – How to behave after encountering mountain gorillas

Although your guide will always be on hand to offer guidance when in the vicinity of the gorillas, some of this tips can really be helpfully during an encounter with gorillas. They will ensure you stay safe and have a successful time observing mountain gorillas in the wild. We recommend the following as the best way to behave while observing mountain gorillas;


Tip 1: Avoid staring directly into the eyes of a mountain gorilla. It is recommended not to look directly into the eyes of the gorillas since it may convey a wrong message to them or make them agitated. Although sometimes you may find yourself looking into the eyes of a gorilla, we recommend that when this happens, take a brief moment to enjoy the experience, but then immediately take your gaze off the gorilla’s eyes and look down. This signals to the gorilla that you are not a threat and you are submissive.


Tip 2: Observe a safe distance of 7 meters (about 23 feet) from the gorillas. However much gorilla trekking unfolds with high anticipation and excitement, visitors are usually advised to observe a safe distance from mountain gorillas. This ensures both your safety and that of mountain gorillas. The safe distance will prevent spreading of any human diseases to the gorillas and also ensure that you are at a safe distance in case of any threat from gorillas. It is important to keep it in mind that mountain gorillas are wild animals and can barely observe this distance.

They can occasionally move closer to you, when such happens, your guide will guide you through this however you are recommended to remain calm and lay low. In case they move to you when you are standing, you are required to stand still until the pass by. If you are standing exactly where a gorilla wants to be, just give him the space and let him move as he likes. Your guide will be watching closely and will instruct you as to the best way to move and behave.


Tip 3: If you need to cough, cover your mouth. This helps to prevent the gorillas catching any form of communicable diseases during the trek. In case you are not feeling well (have a running nose or flue) we recommend rescheduling your trek until you’re feeling better.


Tip 4: Keep a low voice while in the forest. While on a gorilla trekking expedition, visitors are required to try to keep quiet and move slowly, according to the instructions of the ranger guide. Despite being gentle, gorillas can be surprised and might feel provoked if you come too close, too fast or when you are too loud. Ranger guides at times make a belching noise on approaching the gorillas to signal that they’re not a threat.


General gorilla trekking rules and guidelines – Important rules to follow while trekking mountain gorillas – Is it safe to go gorilla trekking?

The safety of gorilla trekking is bolstered by strict rules regulating visits to the mountain gorillas. Here are the most important rules and guidelines for trekking mountain gorillas.

1) To protect the health of gorillas, always wash your hands before you head out to trek the mountain gorillas.

2) Always wear clean clothes each time you visit gorillas. Always clean your clothes before and after each trek in the forest.

3) let it be in your know that only eight (8) visitors are allowed to visit a group of habituated Mountain gorillas in a day. This is intended to minimize disturbance of the gorillas so as to ensure they behave normally.

4) When you encounter Mountain Gorillas, the ranger guides will inform you. Follow their instructions on how you will approach your gorilla group.

5) Before you set off for your trek in the forest, you are advised to use the restrooms at the visitors center since there are no restrooms in the forest.

6) Leave no trace. From the time you enter the park until the time you exit, make sure to leave no trace of any rubbish or whatever you bring into the forest. Make sure to go back with whatever you come with in the forest.


Gorilla trekking rules and guidelines to follow while in the presence of gorillas

1) while with gorillas, always maintain a low voice while communicating. It is okay to ask questions during the trek however, noise may attract unnecessary attention from gorillas.

2) Do not leave your group. Always stay in a tight group when you are near the mountain gorillas.

3) Maintain the set minimum distance of 7 metres (21 feet) from the Mountain Gorillas.

4) Always eat or drink before the trek and after the trek. Eating in the presence of gorillas may attract unnecessary attention.

5) Stay calm and submissive while with gorillas. In times when gorillas get agitated, they like to assert their dominance. When gorillas charge, stay calm and follow the guide’s example crouch down slowly.

6) Avoid looking the Mountain Gorilla in the eye. Staring gorillas in their eyes may make them agitated and uncomfortable.

7) Avoid touching Mountain Gorillas. Sometimes mountain gorillas may move closer to you, you are advised to avoid touching or feeding them since they are wild animals.

8) Flash photography is prohibited. When taking pictures, make sure your camera does not have a flashlight on. Always move slowly and carefully when taking pictures.

9) Always respect the allocated observation time of one hour. After this time elapses start your trek back to the starting point. In times when the Mountain Gorillas become agitated or nervous, your guide will end the visit early and start your trek back to the visitors center.

10) Always keep your voice low until you are 200 meters away from the location of the Mountain Gorillas.


Gorilla trekking healthy guidelines and rules

Mountain gorillas share upto 98 % of DNA with humans making them susceptible to human disease. To protect mountain gorillas from contracting these human diseases, there are set healthy guidelines issued to trekkers which must be adhered to at all costs to ensure their longevity.

1) When you are feeling ill, or have a contagious disease like flu or diarrhea, please volunteer to stay behind. An alternative visit will be arranged for you or you will be refunded your money depending on the reservation guidelines. This is done to protect gorillas from contracting these diseases.

2) When with the gorillas and feeling the urge to cough or sneeze, it is advised to turn your head away and cover your nose and mouth in order to minimize the spread of viruses or bacteria.

3) Respect the 7 meters (21 feet) established observing distance at all times when with the gorillas.

4) Incase you need to ease your self while in the forest, it is advised to dig a hole that is at least 1 feet deep. After easing yourself, ensure that the wastes are covered properly.

5) Leave no trace in the forest, carry everything you come with back with you.

Note: Any breach of these rules may lead to the termination of tracking without any refund

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