Besides the popular gorilla trekking adventure in Bwindi, the Uganda Wildlife Authority introduced gorilla habituation since January 2014. This activity can only be done in Bwindi Forest! Gorilla habituation experience is not available in the other sections of Virunga Conservation Area including Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda, Volcanoes National Park- Rwanda and Virunga National Park in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
Tourists interested to participate in the experience should book a gorilla habituation permit with a registered tour operator who can also arrange for you other gorilla safaris. You can also contact Uganda Wildlife Authority’s reservations office by mail.
Gorilla habituation is done all year round in Bwindi forest as well as booking for its permits, however, we recommend early bookings. A single habituation permit goes for 1,500 US dollars per person inclusive of park entry fees. Once you’ve booked your permit, you are guaranteed to spend four hours with gorillas contrary to one hour gorilla trekking encounter.
Apparently, Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) has two gorilla families under habituation process which include Bikingi and Bushaho located in Ruhija gorilla tourism sector south of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park. Ruhija is accessible by car taking 8-10 hours from Kampala city, 4 hours for those in Queen Elizabeth national park. Time bound travelers should use the available fly in scheduled charter flights. Even when you travel by air, you must at least have an overnight near Ruhija area. There are several accommodation ranges, have enough relaxation at your lodge to prepare for strenuous treks, the experience commences very early in the morning.
The number of tourists is limited to 4 only who can spend four hours observing gorillas excluding time spent when searching for them. Gorillas are still wild or semi-habituated and unstable. Viewing them depends on the mood they are found in that very day; however, researchers, guides and trackers are experienced with ethics of gorilla behavior to give you a memorable gorilla habituation experience.
Normally you begin with briefing from the guides at Ruhija gorilla center, and then you’re led by rangers hike through forests. Once gorillas are located, tourists are helped and involved in the habituation process by researchers, guides and trackers. You’ll spend four hours observing, photographing and learning how gorilla behavior adopts to human presence. Upon return from the forest you’re awarded a gorilla habituation experience certificate for your lifetime memories.
Gorilla habituation involves researchers, few tourists and trackers who repeatedly train wild gorillas without any threatening or reinforcement but neutral actions directed not at altering their natural wild status including imitating their behaviors by chewing on vegetation, mimicking their vocals, walking on knuckles leading to their reduction in fear of human presence. It’s done on a daily basis and can take up to 3 years or less depending on how naturally gorillas adjust to ignoring tourists as threats and ultimately become fully habituated for normal gorilla trekking.
As a way of conserving gorillas and their habitat which are highly threatened by poaching, habitat loss and spread of human borne diseases, by gorilla habituation, gorillas are able to pay for their conservation given the limited fund for conservation and also foster economic development of local communities living around Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park.
In addition, it gives tourists and researchers a deep understanding of gorilla social and ecological behavior on top of being a once in a life time wildlife experience in the whole world.