Mountain Gorilla and chimpanzee tracking: Africa's greatest wildlife spectacle
By Martha Hales
Mountain Gorilla and chimpanzee tracking is one of the ultimate experiences Africa has to offer. It is no exaggeration to say that for many people, spending time in the company of these amazing primates has a huge impact. For some, it is a moment of such significance that they say it has changed them. When your group turn to leave, some members may be moved to tears.
However you react to the privilege of witnessing these gentle giants up close, it is safe to say the experience will leave a lasting impression.
Happily, your visit will leave a lasting impression on the local community too. Tourist income is hugely important to the economies of Uganda and Rwanda, and the cost of your gorilla or chimpanzee tracking permit together with other local expenditure will directly benefit the precious wildlife you have come to see.
Permits are not cheap, but the Protected Area Authorities use the funds generated from these sales for the management of the national parks, ensuring long term security from poachers and the means to maintain their delicate ecosystems. In addition, ten per cent of the funds raised are shared with local communities living adjacent to the parks, which contributes to their own development projects and improves natural resource management in the region. These tourist-oriented communities are less likely to endanger the habitat of the primates which bring them work and infrastructure. Essentially, it's a win-win scenario and is one of the big success stories of African wildlife conservation.
The endangered mountain gorillas, in particular, are benefitting hugely from their own appeal. Without the protection tourism grants, they would probably still be declining in number, but recent years has seen a population increase. This marks a reassuring development when global trends are showing declining primate numbers across the species.
One of the reasons that people are so profoundly moved by spending time with primates is that the experience can be a very intimate one. Compared with many big game encounters, where the thrill of the animals is the distinct contrast between their existence and our own, spending time close to primates highlights just how similar we are to our wilder cousins. Watching the mountain gorillas or chimps at ease, exhibiting familial and emotional bonds, is an unforgettable experience. It is truly awe-inspiring to see recognisably human traits within the confines of the wild.
And wild it is, out there in the mountainous forests of Equatorial Africa. Some of the primates may be habituated (gradually accustomed to human presence), but that doesn’t change their relationship with their habitat. If they decide that their lunch spot is deep into the impenetrable vegetation, that is where you will need to go to find them. Guides are very skilled at tracking and making a safe route to view the group, but be prepared to get muddy, sweaty and tired on the way. The powerful experience at the end of the trek is well worth the effort.
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