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Gorilla Tracking in the Virungas and Bwindi Impenetrable National Park

Straddling the borders of Uganda, Rwanda and the DRC, the Virungas are not a mountain range as such, but a chain of isolated freestanding volcanic cones strung along a geological fault line. The chain is comprised of six inactive and two active  volcanoes, all of which exceed 3000m in altitude (the tallest being Karisimbi at 4,507m).

The most famous denizen of the Virungas is the critically endangered mountain gorilla, Gorilla beringei beringei
, which inhabits all of the 6 extinct/dormant volcanoes. They also form the main stronghold for the endangered golden monkey  and support relic populations of elephant, leopard and buffalo along with typical highland species such as yellow-backed duiker and giant forest hog.

The Mountain Gorilla is one of the two subspecies of Eastern Gorilla. There are two similar sized ‘populations’. One is found in the Virungas, within three National Parks :  Mgahinga, in south-west Uganda;  Parc National des Volcans, in north-west Rwanda; and Parc National des  Virungas in the DRC. The other is found in Uganda's Bwindi Impenetrable National Park . As of Spring 2010, the estimated total number of Mountain Gorillas worldwide is a tragic 790.

If you are intent on seeing these magnificent apes, your first priority will be to obtain a permit. They are expensive but permit fees in Uganda and in Rwanda do directly support conservation and also activities in loss-making national parks such as Semliki  and Mount Elgon.  The pricing also reflects the fact that each park only issues 10 permits per gorilla family per day, to ensure that the gorilla’s exposure to humans is limited. Apparently, 100% of the gorilla permit cost is used by the government  to continue in the excellent work they do in protecting and promoting these wonderful animals.

Due to our close genetic kinship there is a real risk of passing a viral or bacterial infection to a gorilla and vice-versa. Consequently, there is a restriction on how close you can get to them. PLEASE PLEASE observe the minimum safe distance of 7 metres.  Slap any guide that offers to take you in closer;).

Note that all parks experiences two rainy seasons: March-May and September-November. October is the wettest month.

For those wanting to read into great ape conservation, visit www.unep.org/grasp

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