Mountain gorilla habituation is a process of training wild gorillas to be accustomed to human presence without altering or changing their behaviors for a period of 3 years or more depending on the pace at which gorillas are getting used to humans. The process is done by experienced researchers, trackers and few lucky tourists who know how gorillas behave and closely follow them on a daily basis by imitating their actions such as picking and chewing on the vegetation with non threatening body language.
With time researchers will first put the gorillas on test to see if they are ready for normal trekking. Therefore declaring gorillas ready for normal trekking largely depends on the readiness of gorillas during habituation, if not then the process of habituation continues until they become ready.
This process is totally different from gorilla trekking, please note that trekking is done on already habituated Gorilla groups. This means that habituation experience is far more unique than trekking because few tourists spend four hour contact with gorillas than one hour for normal trekking.
Uganda Wildlife Authority, a top body managing all national parks of Uganda recently introduced gorilla habituation experience for tourists in Rushaga sector found in the southern section of Bwindi impenetrable forest national park not found anywhere else.
Currently there two groups that have been opened for habituation experience in Bwindi forest; the gorilla groups are Bikingi and Bushaho; maximum number of 4 people can be allowed to participate in habituation experience rather the 8 people for trekking. Gorilla habituation costs 1500 USD per tourist for four hours and the cost includes park entry fees.
Normally tourists are briefed very early in the morning about the rules and conduct before gorillas and of course reminding you to dress properly for the impenetrable thickets by experienced Uganda wildlife authority guides, then slowly you enter the forests to look for the designated two gorilla groups under habituation, the four hours excludes time spent when searching for gorillas meaning that lucky tourists spend real four hours observing gorillas in their natural habitats. It means that a total of 8 permits are given out daily depending on availability of tourists interested in habituation experience.
Booking for gorilla habituation permits is done in advance due to limited number of tourists interested in the activity through the Uganda wildlife authority who will later contact the warden manager of Rushaga tourism sector to confirm availability of dates. Tourists are expected to have secured their visa and passport requirements before planning for gorilla habituation.
Gorilla habituation experience was acknowledged to be good for conservation of the whole gorilla population and their habitats because the proceeds from the experience partly go to conservation and supporting of local community development and educating the locals living around the park about the importance of gorillas and other wildlife.
It’s well known that gorillas are prone to contracting human infectious diseases hence training gorillas to be used to humans puts them at risk but good enough the rangers have a ranger based monitoring system they use to closely monitor gorillas every day and obviously there are other threats to gorillas such as poaching, encroachment which must be dealt with besides human diseases.
How to get there
Accessibility of Rushaga sector in the southern part of Bwindi national park is possible by public transport or by direct scheduled charter flights from Entebbe international airport or Kigali in Rwanda.
From Entebbe to Bwindi takes approximately 9-10 hours about 550 km of driving in a safari vehicle on tarmac roads that pass through beautiful terraced green rolling hills giving you insight into the rural Uganda lifestyle. There are several routes but your guide knows a relatively short route. The most popular is the route that passes through Queen Elizabeth national park via Ishahsha sector where you might stop for the rare tree climbing lions.
It becomes easy to get to Rushaga in Bwindi when you are already in Lake Mburo or Queen Elizabeth national park because from these parks it takes less than 6 hours to reach Bwindi.
Alternatively tourists can fly direct from Entebbe airport or kajjansi airfield along the Entebbe – Kampala highway using Aerolink or eagle air charter planes to the airfields of kihihi in kisoro district and there after drive for a short distance to Rushaga area. Most of these flights are usually arranged by your travel operator.