“I will never be the same again”.
Those were the words of Chelsey Crossland, Operations Manager of ElderTreks, following her encounter with mountain gorillas on a recent Gorilla Trekking adventure to Uganda and Rwanda. But this was only one of many amazing experiences she had as part of this trek, and well worth the challenging hike to track and observe these magnificent apes in the wild.
“Wild” is the right adjective to describe Uganda, because although it may not compare to Kenya or Tanzania when it comes to sheer density of wildlife, Uganda has over 500 species of mammals in the country, making it one of the most diverse destinations when it comes to African game viewing. Elephants, giraffes, hippos, over 1000 species of birds, and even tree-climbing lions can all be found here.
Uganda's Tree-climbing Lions
And since the white rhino has been re-introduced through the efforts of the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary, the ‘Big Five’ are all here again, so you can check all of them off your safari bucket list, too. But without a doubt, the headliners in this country are the gorillas.
Uganda is home to more than half of the world’s mountain gorillas, and is one of the few places in the world where you have the opportunity to view these great apes in their natural environment. We’ll have to go to where the gorillas live, and the trek is part of the thrill of the adventure, making the reward of seeing them so much better.
Highly social in nature, mountain gorillas live in multi-generational groups, and watching their interactions with each other is unlike any other wildlife viewing experience. If you are lucky, you might visit a group with young babies, as Chelsey did, who witnessed the maternal love demonstrated by a mother gorilla while cuddling her newborn baby, making for a memory to treasure forever. Or you may see a great silverback male assert his dominance within the group by mediating a conflict, or alternatively, become the centre of attention for youngsters who often include their Alpha leader in their games.
These gorilla encounters are carefully managed, with very limited permits issued, to ensure minimal disruption to the animals’ lives and to help preserve the integrity of the groups and their social structure. Even though Uganda and Rwanda are home to a large percentage of the world’s mountain gorilla population, the species is threatened, and recent estimates put their numbers in the low 300’s – which is why conservation efforts are in place to help the struggling species survive.
In fact, efforts to protect these gorillas began a few decades after their discovery in 1902, and famous researchers such as Dian Fossey furthered these efforts in the 1960s by making accurate census reports and helping to establish anti-poaching patrols to protect them.
And while it may seem counter-intuitive that human contact, however minimal, may help preserve the species, ‘habituated’ gorillas are actually showing an increase in their population, as rangers provide protection for them and even medical help when necessary. Responsible tourism is actually a valuable way to provide funding for these initiatives and ensure they continue.
Chelsey on Gorilla Trek
Certainly a trek to visit mountain gorillas is not for everyone. What this travel experience offers is a rare opportunity to observe these sensitive and complex creatures up close and in the most authentic way possible – in their home and living the way they do naturally. That is the best kind of adventure of all.
ElderTreks Uganda and Rwanda adventure really stands out in regards to the sheer number of opportunities you have to experience the unique wildlife. Two distinct gorilla encounters, two chimp encounters, a rhino walk, search for tree-climbing lions and numerous safaris on which you'll get a chance to view many of the other animals which the areas are known for. Learn more about this amazing "trip of a lifetime" here.