Friday, 21 April 2017

UGANDA: Visit The Rare Mountain Gorillas

Gorilla tracking in Mgahinga National Park or the chimp tracking in Kibale Forest National park is one of the beautiful escapes and experiences for the discerning traveler.

Uganda is looking at mountain gorilla tracking as a source of tourist attraction with numbers set to shoot up to 20 million visitors annually by the year 2020.

Gorillas are naturally afraid of humans and will flee or aggressively charge if people get too close to them. Gorillas that are visited by people have undergone ‘habituation’. A process by which through daily peaceful contact with humans, the gorillas lose fear of humans. Habituating a group of gorillas usually takes about two years according to Pontious Ezuma the Conservation Area Manager Mgahinga.

Ezuma explains that it is for this reason that guidelines have been developed for trackers to be respected as the gorillas let us mingle with them in their wild. During my encounter with the gorillas at Mgahinga National park, I realized that gorillas are very social and live in groups cohesively coordinating their daily activities. Gorilla tracking is rather expensive, ($600- ugx2.1m) for Non Foreign residents, and $500 (ugx1.8m for foreign residents), while Ugandans or East Africans part with Ugx250,000 for an hour of tracking. Uganda Wildlife Authority publicist Gessa Simplicious however says that April, May and November are promotional months that go with discounts as low $450, $400 and Ugx 150,000 respectively.

However if you want to experience the gorilla habituation experience, you will have to part with $1500, $1000 and Ugx 750,000 for Foreign non residents, foreign residents and East Africans respectively. These rates according to Gessa include guide fees, park entrance for the day and community development fee. Ezuma says the reasons tracking are so expensive is to deter more interactions with them. At Mgahinga and Bwindi, I realized that interaction with individual gorillas is peaceful. Okoth Yona, the guide of the day explains that conflicts usually arise due to feeding spots, dominancy by the Silver backs over others.

Males may compete intensively for access to females. According to Okoth, intergroup encounters occur about monthly giving the females the opportunity to transfer between social units and allow the males time to out-compete their opponents and appear impressive to attract females.

It was some serious bush-whacking as we navigated through the thicket. It is a rare chance to see these mountain gorillas, some of the worlds’ only remaining species. They are few because the size of their habitat, Bwindi just about 330 square Kilometers and Virunga that is 450km2 are too small. The gorillas are also heavily threatened by the destruction of their habitat by the increasing population around the parks.

Though the people around Virunga and Bwindi don’t eat primates, poachers set snares to trap other wild animals and these gorillas get trapped too. No wonder they estimate just about 700 mountain gorillas in two small populations in Virunga Volcanoes of Rwanda, Uganda and DRC. While in Bwindi, the figures are estimated to be around 300. According to Ezuma, the gorillas are monitored as they move during a census that is conducted every 5 years

Feeding

Gorillas are so huge because they spend most of the hours eating. Surprisingly though, they are vegetarians. They feed on leaves, fruits and stems. Okoth Yona, the guide at Mgahinga says one gorilla has the energy of 8 gigantic men combined together not with the 5-6 hours of salad eating. This explains their huge presence in Ruhija and Buhoma areas in Bwindi, where there is heavy presence of the fruits. Gorillas travel at least 1 km a day in Bwindi depending on availability of food.

They also travel long distances when they sense danger from other groups, but usually each group occupies a home range of between 10-30 km2 .Bwindi has 10 habituated gorilla groups giving daily maximum of 80 permits. The gorilla families include: Nshongi Gorilla Family, Mishaya, and Oruzogo family located in Ruhija, Bitukura, Rushegura, Kahororo, as well as the Mubare and Habinyanja Gorilla families located in Buhoma in the southern sector of Bwindi.

Batwa Trail experience

Mgahinga also offers a unique Batwa forest experience that includes discovery of the cave and traditional home of the Batwa king complimentary with cave cultural dances and mimicking of wild hunt. There is nothing dull about this luxurious award-wining establishment. Here you will experience how these Batwa’s light fire without matches.

Bwindi Impenetrable Forest

This is so far one of Africa’s richest forests with over 350 bird species, 200 trees, over 300 butterflies, 50 reptiles and over 100 mammals, hundreds of primates including the rare black and white colobus and Blue monkeys. Outside the forest, community walks provide an insight into the lives of the Batwa and Bakiga living beside the forest.

After the hectic gorilla tracking in Mgahinga, Bwindi or chimpanzee tracking in Kibale forest, you can then experience the best classical and contemporary cuisines and rare wine vintages amidst spectacular breath taking views among the various lodges spread within and outside these parks.

n Mgahinga, you will wake up each morning to an exquisite blanket of mist bright sunshine.

There’s something extremely romantic about a stay on a remote park, but the real luxury is being able to connect with yourself in a place where time’ of no consequence.

Profligacy is the word that comes in mind when you go gorilla tracking.

A holiday or weekend break is becoming a luxury for many Ugandans. If you are a foreigner, a self drive to one of Uganda’s parks will offer an excellent value for money and if you’re a local, these self-catering destinations won’t break the bank.

Located some 400km southwest of Kampala, Uganda’s capital lies a picturesque valley nestled in a myriad of magnificent mountains and lush greenery. With quaint, quiet accommodation set amidst the thickets, there are few holiday destinations as conducive as Bwindi.

Mubare Gorilla Group

When in Bwindi as a guide for the Mubare gorilla group, one of the oldest habituated gorilla family in Uganda that was opened for tourism in 1993. The name was derived from the Mubare Hill where the gorillas were first sighted by trackers. This group had 18 individuals, led by the dominant Silverback Ruhondeza. Sadly though, over the years the family lost many members leaving just five in 2012.

Earlier in 2012, the family was attacked by a wild gorilla group who broke Ruhondeza’s leadership and took away some of the females. Ruhondeza took refuge in a nearby community forest were it later died aged over 50 years on 27 June 2012. Ruhondeza was buried in Buhoma.

But the good news is that Ruhondeza’s successor Kanyonyi managed to expand the family again and increased it to nine members now.