A visit to a mountain gorilla family is a life changing and humbling experience. Mountain gorillas are highly intelligent, good natured, and fascinating to observe. The silverback’s powerful presence is awe-inspiring, yet his calm demeanour clearly earns him the title of 'gentle giant'. People are equally struck by the tenderness and care that mothers show their young. And then, of course, there are the juveniles who spend almost every waking hour at play and never cease to make visitors smile. Treks to visit these magnificent creatures occur in the equatorial montane forests of the Virunga Mountains, a chain of volcanoes that cover D.R.C., Uganda and Rwanda. A geologically and equatorially unique area called the Albertine Rift. These rainforests receive a lot of rainfall, and therefore don’t be surprised if you get wet at some point.
Mountain gorillas (gorilla beringei beringei), have longer and thicker fur than the other gorilla species, to provide additional warmth within the colder climates that they live. They are usually smaller than their close cousins the Eastern lowland gorilla (gorilla beringei graueri). To the untrained eye, all gorillas may appear very similar in appearance, but they have unique nose prints that help to identify individuals. Gorillas will move between different altitudinal habitats on the slopes on the mountains, depending on food availability.
There are only just over 1,000 individuals left in the entire world, earning them a critically endangered title. Each Gorilla Group Family has their own distinct personality, which is why many people choose to trek more than one gorilla group. There are 6 habituated gorilla families in Virunga. All treks are led by Virunga park rangers. Treks can take between 3 – 6 hours. They usually require 1-2 hours of hiking in each direction.
A trip to Virunga National Park would not be complete without visiting the world's only Mountain gorilla sanctuary. Named in honour of one of the park's legendary rangers and also the silverback who was murdered in the 2007 gorilla massacre. Here you will have the possibility of meeting the ranger André Bauma from the Oscar nominated documentary ‘Virunga.' Currently, there are 4 rescued orphans in the centre, that can be watched from a number of viewing platforms, while they play around in their enclosure. Note that the Senkwekwe centre closes at 16h00.
There is a 5:30am early wake up, and breakfast, where you will then proceed with a 4WD truck up a steep road to the Bukima Ranger Post (if you are staying at Bukima Tented Camp you will walk there) from where the gorilla trek will begin. The park regulations require you to wear a surgical mask, which protects the gorillas from airborne diseases that gorillas have no natural immunity to. You are only allowed to spend one hour with the Mountain gorillas.