Gorilla Habituation is another interesting activity done in the gorilla trekking national park of Bwindi forest as travelers get to spend more time with the gorillas. Bwindi Impenetrable national park is the only park amongst the three that is Volcanoes national park in Rwanda and Virunga national parks that offer mountain gorilla habituation as an experience. Gorilla habituation is the process in which the wild mountain gorillas are trained to be acquainted with people. That is gorillas are trained to get used to seeing people from time to time without getting threatened by the presence of people.
Gorilla Habituation process takes about 2 to 3 years and during this period researchers visit the gorilla group on a daily basis to study and monitor their behaviour and in a long run, each member of a gorilla family will be given a name. Once the researchers are convinced that the gorilla family is completely habituated, the family will be put into a test where a few people including the scientists and journalists will be invited to visit the gorilla family, once the habituated gorilla family passed the test, it will then be officially opened for gorilla trekking experience for visitors.
Gorilla habituation is only carried out in Rushaga sector of Bwindi impenetrable national park in Kisoro district. Rushaga sector is situated in the southern part of Bwindi Impenetrable national park about 35kms distance driving from Kisoro to Rushaga head office and also the most visited sector since it has the highest number of gorilla families both for habituation and trekking experiences. There are 2 gorilla families that have been set out for gorilla habituation. One of the semi-habituated gorilla group set aside for only gorilla habitation is Bikingi gorilla family. This family comprises of 15 members with 1 silverback who is the head of the family. This family was discovered around Rushaga sector in a place called Bikingi hence named after the area it was discovered. The other gorilla group is called Bushaho gorilla group.
Gorilla habituation experience is a full day activity where the visitors’ trek alongside the researchers to find the gorilla family which is still under the habituation process. Visitors, first of all, meet the researchers at the park headquarters before they enter the forest; they are given a briefing about the habituation experience and their expectations while in the forest. On finding the gorillas, visitors are allowed to spend a minimum of 4 hours in the presence of the gorillas while studying their behaviour, which is not the same as gorilla trekking where visitors only spend 1 hour with the gorillas. Only 4 people are permitted to visit a semi-habituated gorilla family in a day. A habituation gorilla permit is at 1,500 USD per person for foreign non-resident, 1,000 USD for foreign residents and 750 USD for East African citizens and this permit is only valid for a single day of gorilla experience.
Apart from gorilla habituation, visitors can spend more time in Bwindi impenetrable national park on other activities in and around the park. Some of these activities include;
Gorilla trekking experience; while gorilla habituation is a good adventure with the gorillas, gorilla trekking experience is yet another adventure not to be missed on a visit to Bwindi Impenetrable national park. The process for gorilla trekking is similar to that of gorilla habituation except with gorilla trekking, visitors only visit already habituated gorilla families available and visitors are allowed to spend hours in their presence while observing their feeding habits, playing nature and behavior. A gorilla trekking permit is 600 USD for Foreign non-residents, 500 USD for foreign residents and 250,000 UGX for East African Citizens. For visitors intending to visit Uganda, gorillas must be informed that gorilla permits will be increased as of July 2020 to 700 USD for foreign non-residents, 600 USD for foreign residents and 250,000 USD for East African residents. 8 people are allowed to visit a single gorilla family on a daily basis.
Other activities available after gorilla habituation experience and gorilla trekking include; nature walk tours through the forest, birding watching tours, Batwa trail tours, and community tours, these activities can be incorporated in gorilla experience hence increasing your stay in Bwindi Impenetrable national park.
Gorilla habituation experience requires a minimum of 3 days in the park. The first day for reporting at your accommodation near the park, the second is for gorilla habituation experience that covers the whole as it starts at 7 am and the third day is for returning to whichever destination you wish. Thereafter, there are several accommodation facilities visitors to stay in depending on their choice and budget. Accommodations range from Upmarket, Luxury, mid-range and budget options. Lodges around the park include; Chameleon Hill Lodge, Lake Mutanda Resort, Gorilla Safari Lodge, Ichumbi Gorilla lodge, Rushaga Gorilla Camp, Bwindi Valley lodge, Rushaga Gorilla Havens lodge to mention a few.
The gorilla habituation sector that is Rushaga, can be accessed from Kigali Rwanda which is the shortest driving route to connect to the sector via Katuna or Cyanika border from Rwanda taking about 4-5 hours driving. Alternatively, for someone who is arriving from Entebbe International airport, it is an 8-9 hours’ drive from Kampala to Bwindi, you need to save the whole day to connect to Bwindi Park. The drives are always adventurous and give a wide experience in the countryside. Domestic scheduled flights from Entebbe to Bwindi have been provided by Aero link Uganda to reduce on the long driving distance from Kampala City.