Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park is located in south-western Uganda at the edge of the Albertine rift valley covering about 321 sq km. The forest is believed to have survived the ice age about 25,000 years ago and such a pristine, unspoiled forest lying at low altitudes between 1,160 to 2,607 meters above sea level is an important area for biodiversity conservation. Estimates say that there are about 880 mountain gorillas left on the planet earth and interestingly about 400 mountain gorillas live in the Bwindi forest which is a half of the world’s mountain gorilla population. The other gorillas live in Rwanda and DRC’s Virunga mountains region.
Mountain gorilla habituation in itself is a process of training wild gorillas to be accustomed to human presence without altering or changing their behaviours. This can be achieved over a period of 3 years or more depending on the pace at which gorillas are getting used to humans. The process is done by experienced researchers, trackers and few lucky tourists who know how gorillas behave and closely follow them on a daily basis by imitating their actions such as picking and chewing on the vegetation with non-threatening body language. With time researchers will first put the gorillas on test to see if they are ready for gorilla trekking tours. Therefore declaring gorillas ready for normal trekking largely depends on the readiness of gorillas during habituation, if not then the process of habituation continues until they become ready for human interaction.
However, when it comes to gorilla habituation experience as a tourist product, it is where the tourists visit the already habituated gorilla family and will stay with the gorillas for a maximum of four hours observing their day’s activities and behaviour. This gorilla habituation experience differs from gorilla tracking in that with the later, a maximum of one hour is allowed to stay in the presence of the gorillas, which is a short period to have learnt the behaviour of the gorillas.
Uganda Wildlife Authority, a top body managing all national parks of Uganda recently introduced gorilla habituation experience product for tourists in Rushaga sector found in the southern section of Bwindi impenetrable forest national park, a product that is not found anywhere else in the world. Currently there are two gorilla groups that are being visited for habituation experience. These two gorilla habituation groups in Bwindi impenetrable Forest national park are Bikingi and Bushaho.
A maximum number of 4 people can be allowed to participate in habituation experience contrary to the 8 people for allowed on gorilla tracking. Gorilla habituation experience costs 1500 USD per tourist yet gorilla trekking costs USD 600 per tourist.
Normally tourists are briefed very early in the morning about the rules and conduct before gorillas and of course reminding you to dress properly for the impenetrable thickets by experienced Uganda wildlife authority guides, then slowly you enter the forests to look for the designated two gorilla groups under habituation, the four hours excludes time spent when searching for gorillas meaning that tourists spend real four hours observing gorillas in their natural habitats. It means that a total of 8 permits are given out daily depending on availability of tourists interested in habituation experience.
Booking for gorilla habituation permits need done in advance due to limited number of permits per day, yet the demand for the activity is high.