Gorilla tracking etiquetteMountain gorillas share 98% of our DNA and as such are very susceptible to catching human infections, particularly respiratory ones, but they don’t have our immune system to deal with them – a common cold could eventually prove life-threatening. Various rules for gorilla trekking are therefore in place to help protect these precious primates.
Only one group of tourists can visit the mountain gorillas each day and once you’ve found them, you’ll have just one precious hour in their company. If you have a cold, flu or other contagious infection, you shouldn’t go gorilla trekking.
You should keep a distance of 7m from the gorillas, although of course the gorillas themselves are unaware of this and will often get very close, in which case you should try to move away.
When you’re with your group, you should try not to make sudden movements and to keep your voices low so that the group remains relaxed. Although these mountain gorillas are now used to seeing people, do bear in mind that they are still wild animals and can sometimes react unexpectedly, so always heed your guide’s and trackers’ instructions.
You won’t be allowed to eat or drink when you’re with the gorillas.
What kit should you take for a gorilla trekking safari?Paths on gorilla treks can be slippery, muddy and steep so sturdy walking boots are essential. Some people take thick gardening gloves because of the brambles and nettles en route and you should wear long trousers rather than shorts. A waterproof jacket may come in handy and take some water and a snack in case it’s a long trek. You might also find a walking stick or pole helpful.
For a small fee, porters are available at the trailheads to carry your backpacks and offer a hand during tricky parts of the hike. Even if you don’t really need them, hiring a porter is a helpful way to contribute directly to the local economy and chatting to them en route can enhance your experience both of local life and of your gorilla trek.
Photography on a gorilla trekking safariIf you’re a keen photographer, taking your own pictures of mountain gorillas is one of the most magical photo sessions you’ll ever experience. Do bear in mind that the light can be poor in the rainforest and that use of flash is not permitted. You might also need to protect your camera against heavy rain.
Mountain gorilla groups in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National ParkThe various groups and their locations will obviously change from time to time: mountain gorillas often climb higher in the dry season and descend during the rains, they might move on due to pressure from wild gorillas and individuals will often join other groups. When tracking gorillas, it's possible to request to visit a specific group once you are at the park headquarters, but this can never be guaranteed. These are some of the groups currently habituated for gorilla safaris in Volcanoes National Park:
- The Sabyinyo Group has about 12 individuals, including two silverback gorillas, and is usually found relatively close to the edge of the forest (about 20–40-minutes' walk), between Sabyinyo and Gahinga.
- Agashya Group, also known by its former name Group Thirteen, usually lives close to the Sabyinyo Group but can range very far and high. It has about 25 gorillas with 2 silverbacks.
- Usually living between the Karisoke and Visoke (sometimes called Bisoke) peaks are the Amahoro Group, with about 17 individuals, and the Umubano Group, which currently has 11 members. Both are usually further away from the headquarters than the Sabyinyo and Agasha groups, but easier to reach than the Susa Group.
- Originally studied by Dian Fossey, the Susa Group was the largest, with about 40 individuals, including 3 silverbacks. After a split (creating Igisha Group) in 2009, Susa now has 28 members. In the summer months in particular it can be a tough trek to reach this group high up on Mount Karisimbi, but it’s well worth the effort because of their number and because, uniquely, it has two sets of twins, which is very rare..
- The Karisimbi Group, which split from the Susa group a few years ago, also lives in the Mt. Karisimbi area of Volcanoes National Park and is also suited to visits from more serious hikers. Both of these groups can potentially involve a full day’s trek. This group also underwent a split in 2012, and now has 11 individuals.
- The Hirwa Group has around 11 members including one silverback and another pair of twins. Together with the two pairs of twins in the Susa group, these are the only known surviving twins of mountain gorillas in the world. They’re also usually found on the slopes of Sabyinyo, and tend to be one of the easier groups to trek to.
- The Kwitonda Group has 18 members and was habituated in the DRC. They crossed the border into Rwanda in 2005, and were carefully tracked and are now also being visited on a regular basis, although they are known to range far.
- The Bwenge Group, named after their silverback, has 11 members and can be a tough trek – they’ve had a lot of in-fighting and have lost a few family members, and they move around a lot, and faster.
- The Ugende Group do the same, so it’s often a harder trek. The name means “on the move" – its 11 individuals shift regularly.
- Isimbi Group were formed after the Karisimbi group split in 2012, and includes Poppy, the oldest living female (though she went missing at the end of August 2018, so her future looks a little uncertain). They have 14 members.
Our top picks for holidays to Rwanda
We'll always tailor-make your Safari for you. Here are some of our favourites to inspire you.