A gorilla safaris in Uganda is one of the most enriching memories you can reward yourself on an African Safari. There’s something undoubtedly fascinating about our giant cousins, the magnificent mountain gorillas of Sub-Saharan Africa. Of course it’s partially down to their sheer size — you can’t fail to be impressed by a creature that colossal. But there’s something deeper, more endearing.
The combination of awesome strength with profound gentleness; the depth of their social bonds; their harmony with their environment; their vulnerability.
Perhaps our fascination comes from us seeing in them what we wish we saw in ourselves? We share up to 99% of our genetic material with gorillas but for years most encounters were, sadly, as a slapstick caricature in a cheap horror movie.
But now people are travelling in ever greater numbers to the mountains of Rwanda, Uganda and (to a much lesser degree) the Democratic Republic of Congo to see the mountain gorilla, Gorilla beringei beringei, in its natural environment. A gorilla safari in Uganda or Rwanda is considered a bucket-list item when you travel to these small East African countries.
“There is more meaning and mutual understanding in exchanging a glance with a gorilla than with any other animal I know… So it seems really very unfair that man should have chosen the gorilla to symbolise everything that is aggressive and violent, when that is the one thing that the gorilla is not — and that we are.” — Sir David Attenborough, Life On Earth (1979)
That encounter was possible thanks to Dian Fossey’s 10 years’ work gaining the trust of the gorillas, learning their behaviours and battling poachers. And of course the rapid progress made by the Rwandan and Ugandan authorities, who have recognised the importance of gorilla conservation and the role that well-regulated tourism can play in protecting the species, and as a vital source of revenue.
Miss Fossey, with notebook and binoculars, keeps arms folded—a gorilla gesture of submission—to show she means no harm. PHOTOGRAPH BY ROBERT M. CAMPBELL
The industry is far from perfect, and conservation has come at a cost for the Batwa, the forest’s human inhabitants. But, thanks in part to the gorilla tourism industry, the collapse of the mountain gorilla population has, for now, been halted. With numbers now exceeding 1000 mountain gorillas in the wild from the recent 2018 gorilla population report.
But seeing mountain gorillas in the wild isn’t easy. It’s a demanding, physical experience; it’s highly regulated, with permits and tightly- enforced rules and regulations; and it can be expensive!
The one thing gorilla safaris in Uganda can assure you, is that your hour with the gorillas will be one of the most magical moments of your life on. Remember to put your camera down, at least for a few minutes, and just watch, listen and breathe in the scents of the forest. Your photos and videos are important souvenirs, but just being there is the real treat. Enjoy.