Archive for the ‘Gorilla Safaris’ Category
Gorillas; the largest of the great Apes are divided into three subspecies that include the western lowland gorillas (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) and the eastern lowland gorillas (Gorilla gorilla graueri). The eastern and western lowland gorillas were identified for science in 1847 and 1877 respectively.
Mountain gorillas are physically distinct from lowland gorillas. They are larger, have much hair, a short trunk, a broad chest / shoulders and also have a longer / slightly different nose shape.
They are born small, covered with black hair and usually weigh about 2.3 kilograms. Gorillas develop about as twice as human babies with the mature female mother also undergoing a gestation period of 9 months. They are unique species; as a gorilla with an infant may not have another baby up to four years – good family planning.
Male and female young gorillas between the ages of three and six are classed as juvenile. During this period, both the male and female gorillas have a black skin and thick black hair and usually weigh about 2.3 kilograms. They increase in size and weight at similar rates for the first six years. On reaching six years; most Mountain gorillas weigh about 68 kilograms and are usually about 4 feet tall.
The female Mountain gorilla stop growing taller as they mature at around six years, this is as opposed to the male Mountain gorillas that continue growing both in size and weight past the age of six till they reach the ages of ten to eleven.
Between the ages of six and ten years, male gorillas have a black hair colour and are thus referred to as the Blackbucks. On reaching maturity which is usually between 10 and 12 years, the male Mountain Gorillas develop silvery grey hairs on their backs thereby being referred to as Silverbacks.
The Silverback usually leave their parental group at the age of 11 and then moves alone or in the company of other males for a few years before managing to attract females from other groups to him hence forming his own family. Silver back is a dominant male in a group of about 12 or more gorillas that usually include females, juveniles and other infants.
On a good day, you will find them chewing leaves, laughing and farting not only continuously but with a lot of contentment. They are diurnal (nomadic), sleeping each night in a fresh nest built from leaves and branches.
Mountain gorillas are primarily vegetarian with their menu comprising bamboo, nettles and gallium being some of their favorite. They occasionally also eat safari ants which are scooped in huge handfuls to stuff into the mouth until the safari ant bites over power them. Gorillas spend most of their time traveling and foraging in search of food since plants and trees change with seasons.
Gorillas communicate through vocalizations. Twenty five distinct vocalizations have so far been recognized with each one having its own particular meaning. As an element of their socialization, they communicate through howls, grunts, barks and hoots. Screams and roars signal alarm or warning and are often produced by silverbacks. They also communicate by beating on their chests or on the ground. This is done to show stature, prevent a fight or even scare off opponents. However, even the infants beat their chests as a kind of displacement activity during play perhaps just to copy their elders.
Mountain gorilla life is peaceful and quite. It is from this that they have come to be called Africa’s Gentle Giants. These gentle giants are found in the areas of Parc des Volcans – Rwanda and Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) while in Uganda, they are confined to Mgahinga Gorilla National Park and Bwindi “impenetrable” Forest National park.
Bwindi “impenetrable” Forest National park is situated in south western Uganda on the edge of western rift valley (Albertine rift) and is shared by Kanungu, Kabale and Kisoro districts. It is 331 square kilometers in size; on an altitude range of 1,160 metres (Ishasha gorge) to 2607 metres (Rwamanyonyi peak).
The number of mountain gorillas in the Virunga vault that combine the gorillas of Uganda , Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo has increased according to experts. The number is believed to have reached 900 from 700 usually portrayed by the facts noted since 2006 when the last census was done.
The government through Uganda Wildlife Authority recently launched a census to assess the actual number of Mountain Gorillas.
According to Martha Robbins, the German expert leading the census, the team counts gorilla nests, other than individual gorillas, and collect their feaces. The feaces will be used for generic analysis which, she said, provides the most accurate estimates.
The first census in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in western Uganda was carried out in 1997. It showed that there were 300 gorillas but the number rose to about 320 five years later and 340 in the last census conducted in 2006.
The Gorillas of Mgahinga , Virunga and Volcanoes National parks are believed to have increased from 380 in 2006 t0 480 currently. The census in Bwindi impenetrable forest launched about a month has been launched and the numbers are believed to have risen from 340 in 2008 to over 400 now.
Bwindi has 8 habituated groups namely Mubare 5 members, Habinyanja with 19 members, Rushegura with 20, Nkuringo 20, Bitukura 14, Nshongi 26, Mishaya 11, Kyaguriro 16.
Two other groups are under habituation and currently being used for mock tourism namely Kahungye and Oruzogo. All groups are available for tourism except Kyaguriro in Ruhija which is dedicated for Research.
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park which is part of the Greater Virunga Massif has one trans-boundary group known as Nyakagezi with 9 members.
Bwindi Forest gazzetted in 1992 as a National park is now a UNESCO world heritage site.
Gorilla trekking provides over 60% of tourism revenue for Uganda thus being a strong reason for their protection.
The threats to the Mountain Gorilla population and its habitat are many. Among these are increasing population and the possibility of disease transmission from humans to Gorillas. To address the issue of potential disease transmission to the gorillas and to reduce behavioral disturbances to the fragile population, Gorilla rules have been put in place.
ON THE WAY TO THE GORILLAS
1) Always wash your hands before you head out to the gorillas.
2) A maximum number of eight (8) visitors may visit a group of habituated Mountain gorillas in a day. This minimizes behavioral disturbance to the gorillas and the risk of their exposure to human borne diseases.
3) You will be taken to where the guides left the gorillas the day before. From there you will follow the mountain gorillas’ trail to find them. Look out for the gorillas’ nesting sites along the way!
4) When you reach the Mountain Gorillas, the guides will inform you when to get your cameras ready.
5) Please always keep your voices low. You will also be able to observe the great birdlife and other wildlife in the forest.
6) Do not leave rubbish in the park. Whatever you bring into the forest should be carried back with you.
WHEN YOU ARE WITH THE MOUNTAIN GORILLAS
1) Keep your voices low at all times. However, it is okay to ask the guide (s) questions.
2) You must stay in a tight group when you are near the mountain gorillas.
3) Keep a minimum of 7 metres (21 feet) from the Mountain Gorillas. This is to protect the Mountain Gorillas from human disease transmission.
4) Do not eat or drink while you are near the mountain gorillas.
5) Sometimes the Mountain Gorillas charge. Follow the guide’s example crouch down slowly. DO NOT look the Mountain Gorilla in the eye. Wait for the Gorillas to pass and do not attempt to run away as this could increase the risk of attack.
6) Do not touch the Mountain Gorillas. They are wild animals.
7) Flash photography is not allowed. When taking pictures, move slowly and carefully.
8) The maximum time visitors are allowed to spend with the Mountain Gorillas is one hour. This is done to limit their disturbance. If the Mountain Gorillas become agitated or nervous, the guide will end the visit early.
9) After the visit, keep your voices low until you are 200 metres away from the Mountain Gorillas.
GENERAL HEALTH RULES
Remember Mountain Gorillas are very susceptible to human diseases. The following are ways to minimize the risk your visit might pose to them;
1) If you are feeling ill, or have a contagious disease when you are already at the park, please volunteer to stay behind. An alternative visit will be arranged for you or you will be refunded your money as per gorilla reservation guidelines.
2) If you feel the urge to cough or sneeze when you are near the Mountain Gorillas, please turn your head away and cover your nose and mouth in order to minimize the spread of viruses or bacteria.
3) Always stay 7 metres (21 feet) away from the Mountain Gorillas. The further back you are, the more relaxed the group will be.
4) Respect the Gorilla limit imposed on the time visitors are allowed with the Mountain Gorillas each day. This minimizes the risk of disease transmission and stress to the group.
5) If you need to go to the “toilet” while in the forest, please ask the guide to dig you a hole and ensure you cover it when you have finished.
6) Do not leave any rubbish in the park.
By following the rules above and through purchase of a permit, you are contributing to the conservation of the Mountain Gorilla. A percentage of the funds raised from park entrance fees and the community levy on permits is shared with the local communities living adjacent to the parks so as to help contribute to their development projects and also improve on the natural resource management in the region. Any breach of these rules may lead to termination of tracking without any refund. Book your Gorilla Tour here
Rica Rwigamba, the conservation and tourism director said the ceremony that is due to be held on June 18, will give names to twins born in February, a rare occurrence for an endangered species which counts fewer than 800 individuals. Rwanda has recorded only five twin mountain gorilla births over the past 40 years.
“Like every year, renowned personalities will be part of the ceremony,” Rwigamba said.
Mountain gorillas are Rwanda‘s main tourist attraction and accounted for 90 percent of tourism revenue in 2010.
According to a 2010 census, the total number of mountain gorillas has increased by a quarter over the past seven years to reach more than 780 individuals.
The Uganda Wild life Authority (UWA) has slashed fees for Uganda gorilla tracking permits by about 60% to both locals and foreigners.
UWA executive director, Dr. Andrew Seguya, announced on Tuesday in Kampala that the fee for East Africans – Ugandan trackers inclusive will be Ush.100,000/= from Ush 250,000, US$250 from US$475 for Foreign Residents and US$350 from US$500 for Foreign Non residents.
These promotional rates are applicable only for the low months of March, April, May, October and November. For the peak months rates will remain Ush 250,000, US$475 and US$500 respectively.
This, he explained is meant to attract more tourists to Bwindi impenetrable forest, Mgahinga Gorilla National Park and other tourism sites in the country. It is now on record that Gorilla trekking provides over 50% of tourism revenue for Uganda.
From a recent census, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park now has a total of about 32 gorilla groups. Of the 32 groups, nine are habituated of which eight are utilized for tourism while one is used for research. The total number of gorillas in Bwindi is about 340 which is almost over half of the estimated 720 Mountain gorillas in the world.
The census found that the percentage proportion of groups with several males (multimale) fell from 45% in the 1997 and 2002 censuses to 23% in the 2006 census.
According to an UWA press statement; this represents a normal fluctuation in the dynamics of gorilla groups. Because of the increase in the gorilla population, UWA has started a habituation process for two more groups in abid to boost Tourism revenue and satisfy the increasing public demand for gorilla tracking.
According to the researchers- “overall, the Uganda gorilla population has been increasing at an approximate annual growth rate of 1%, which is indicative of a healthy and well protected population”.
Reports also indicate that, in 2008, tourism earned Uganda $590m with 84,300 visitors. The tourism sector employs over 70,000 people directly while 300,000 people are employed indirectly in activities like handcraft.
The tourism industry amassed US$56 million (Rwf33 billion) in revenues in the first quarter of 2011, from US$43 million during the same period last year, indicating a successful start for the year.
During the same period, 201,088 visitors have visited the country representing a 32 percent increase compared to the same period last year.
John Gara, The CEO of Rwanda Development Board (RDB), attributed the increase to the diversification of Rwanda’s tourism products. The introduction of new products, particularly the 150 meters high canopy walkway in Nyungwe, is projected to attract at least 13,000 visitors this year.
“Due to the canopy walk, Nyungwe National Park activities almost doubled with an 89 percent increase in the first quarter of 2011,” Gara said, Thursday, during a press conference.
He added that in order to reduce human-wildlife conflicts in national parks, the Parliament and Senate voted in the compensation law to fence Akagera Park and contain wildlife within park boundaries and also compensate evicted families.
Gara said, “There was a 35 % increase in park activities registered in the three national parks,” He also noted that, “park activities in Akagera and Volcanoes parks increased by 20% and 39% respectively.”
He expressed optimism over the forthcoming Kwita Izina function scheduled for 18th June, which is a gorilla naming public event expected to massively boost the tourism sector, as well as attract several international celebrities.
“Kwita Izina will be held under the theme “Community development for sustained conservation” and will see 22 baby gorillas given named in a colorful event at Musanze. This is one of the major events in the tourism calendar, which we are all optimistic about,” Gara added.
As part of the country’s long term tourism master plan, Rwanda Development Board is to launch three birding routes outside the national parks.
The East African Community (EAC) Heads of State have appointed Ambassador Richard Sezibera from Rwanda as the new secretary General of the Community on a five-year term with effect from last week.
A communiqué issued at the end of the Heads of State summit held in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania last week said Dr. Sezibera replaces Ambassador Juma Volter Mwapachu who completed his term of office on April 24, 2011.
Speaking after being sworn in, Dr Sezibera said that his focus will be to strengthen and bring the Community’s programmes to success. He said his main duties will be to push for the complete establishment of the East African common market and put it into practice.
“I expect the partner states to support me in ensuring the implementation of the Community programmes,” said Dr Sezibera.
He added that another duty will be to facilitate integration and make sure all the residents of the EAC area well informed and aware of the EAC programmes and activities.
On what EAC people should expect from him, the new secretary-general said his commitment to work for the Community was among the important issues that would move the Community’s development ahead.
“I am committed to work for the East African people, it makes me very proud and courageous,” said Dr Sezibera.
Until his new appointment, Dr Sezibera, (47), the youngest person to hold the top EAC post since the revival of the regional bloc in 1999 has been Rwanda’s health minister since October 2008. He has served in many capacities in the Rwandan government including Presidential Special Envoy to the Great Lakes region, Ambassador to the United States and Senior Adviser to the President where he worked on peace and security, conflict management and resolution, as well as regional integration issues.
He is the author of many university journals, mainly in the field of politics and international affairs, and has published numerous articles and interviews in major national, regional and international media houses including Voice of America, CNN, BBC, The Washington Post and Foreign Affairs magazine.
Dr. Sezibera holds a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery degree and practiced medicine for many years in Uganda and Rwanda. He also holds a Master of Arts degree in Liberal Studies from Georgetown University.
Summit Chairman Pierre Nkurunziza told the new leaders that the mission is to lead the Community in its second decade of integration, with a calendar of great commitments because the peoples of the community have become very demanding, and require concrete results from the integration.
Hailing the choice of Sezibera, officials in the Rwandan Senate said the appointment was a sign that the EAC’s integration would be fast tracked.
“It’s great to have someone who has wide experience in politics; it’s good for Rwanda and the wider Community,” Senator Agnes Mukabaranga said. “Dr Sezibera has vast experience considering the posts he has held before. He is very innovative and industrious.”
Mukabaranga said Dr Sezibera has the spirit of innovation that is needed to fast track the region’s integration process. He becomes the fourth secretary-general of the EAC.
By Arthur Baguma
The East African Community plans to start a single tourist visa for the region. The member states are discussing a protocol to create and market the region as a single tourist destination. Member states have started to coordinate their policies in the tourism industry and were establishing a frame work that would ensure equitable distribution of resources. In addition the partner states are establishing a common code of conduct for private and public tour and travel operators, standardized hotel classification and professional standards of agents in the industry.
A collective policy for the conservation and sustainable utilization of wildlife and other tourist sites in the region is also in pipeline.
“They include harmonizing policies for the conservation of wildlife within and outside protected areas, exchanging information and adopting common policies on wildlife management and development, coordinating efforts in controlling and monitoring encroachment and poaching activities,” information at the EAC states. The policy encourages joint use of training and research facilities and developing common management plans for trans-border protected areas.
These developments are good news to East Africa tourism potential. From some of the world’s finest beaches to unique wildlife sanctuaries East Africa is a tourism hub. In Uganda the unique wildlife sanctuaries East Africa is a tourism hub. In Uganda the unique Bwindi National Park home to some 340 mountain gorillas, the Murchison Falls and Queen Elizabeth National Park are also preferred sites for tourists. In Kenya, the magnificent Maasai Mara reserve, among 48 wildlife parks and reserves, including the amazing Amboseli and Tsavo National Parks attract tourists both local and international. In Tanzania, the world famous Ngorongoro crater, the breath taking spectacular Serengeti plains, wildlife conservation areas and Mt. Kilimanjaro – Africa’s highest mountain are just the tip of the ice berg of what Tanzania can offer tourists.
Apart from the scenic attractions, East Africa has a lot more to offer. Hotel and beach tourism is at its peak. The region offers a large number of historical sites spread through the region. It boasts of interesting traditional culture, the Makonde sculptures and Akamba wood crafts as well as the Uganda Kingdoms, cultures and tradition. The Olduvai Gorge in the Great Rift Valley in Tanzania is the site of discoveries of the traces of early humanity.
There is, however potential for development, expansion and promotion of East African tourism, taking into account on going development of tourism and other potential of the lake Victoria basin. The world’s second largest fresh water body is shared by Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda.
The number of tourists to the East African region increased significantly between 1995 and 2002.In Tanzania the number increased from 285,000 to 550,000 while in Uganda it increased from 160,000 to 254,000. In Kenya there was a slight decline from 896,000 to 838,000 but the figures rose to one million in 2003.
Currently the three countries attract more than two million tourists. The figures indicate a vibrant trend of the tourist sector in East Africa. With joint promotion of the industry, tourist visits in East Africa are expected to double in the near future. In 2005, the East African Community countries launched the plan for joint tourism and wildlife development including joint marketing and promotion of East Africa as a single tourist destination.
Starting with the Internationale Tourismus Borse (ITB), Berlin 2006, the tourist boards of East African countries participate in international trade fairs under one roof, the East African Village exhibition area. On going activities aim at developing both short and long term measures in the joint promotion and marketing of East Africa as a single tourist destination.
The plan and strategy for joint development and promotion of tourism envisages steady growth due to stable political and peaceful conditions prevailing in the region coupled with modernization of infrastructure, transport and communications facilities and links to all parts of the world by major world air lines and ocean cruises.
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Mgahinga can be reached from Kampala either by air or road. From Kampala the park is about 540 kilometres and is punctuated with scenic views while charter flights to Kisoro Airstrip take approximately an hour from Entebbe.
Gazetted as a sanctuary in 1930, this park has 76 mammal species with the most notable being Uganda’s trump card; the mountain gorilla. Nyakagezi, one of the habituated groups or gorilla families, in this park keeps moving back and forth across the boundary of Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
In 1964, the northern boundary of the sanctuary was changed to a lower altitude of 2280m extending into heavily encroached zones and gazetted as a game reserve which made an area of roughly 47.5km² that has gone on reducing to 38.6 square kilometres. This game reserve was later gazetted to its present status of a national park in 1991.
Other key species of primates known to be in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park include the golden monkey and the black and white Colobus monkey. Considering that this park is a gem amongst Ugandan parks, other animals to look out for include golden cats, giant forest hogs, Caruthers’s mountain, Boehm’s, side stripped jackal, honey badger, buffaloes, elephants and 12 bird species among which are the cinnamon chested bee eater and the globally threatened Grauer’s rush warbler.
Being an Afro-montane tropical rainforest, it has abundant bamboo that is one of the delicacies for the mountain gorilla. Mgahinga National Park has three extinct volcanoes. Though no special mountain gear is required, it is recommended that one has to be physically fit. The three extinct volcanoes are Mt. Gahinga, Mt. Muhavura and Mt.Sabinyo.
Mount Sabinyo commonly referred to as “Old Man’s Teeth” is the point where you will be in Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) at the same time. The hike takes approximately eight hours for the round trip that covers the 14 -kilometre stretch.
Mt. Gahinga, locally known as a “Small Pile of Stones” is another of the hills that make up the Virunga ranges while Mt. Muhavura meaning “The Guide” is a volcano that acts as a guide since it is seen from all over Kisoro. The hike to Mt. Gahinga takes approximately eight hours for a round trip to cover the 12 km stretch.
Another principal feature in the area are the caves. Most notable is Garama cave where the Batwa are believed to have once lived. This 342-metre long and 14-metre deep cave three kilometres from the park headquarters is now inhabited by bats. Kisoro town offers a wide range of accommodation facilities ranging from basic campsites to luxurious hotels.
Recommended hotels and lodges include Traveler’s Rest Hotel and Mount Gahinga Lodge. For the avid hiker, Mt. Mgahinga is the place to go. However, there is need for more shorter and varied walks that can be promoted around or within the park.
By Geoffrey Baluku
Uganda is a land locked country located astride the equator. With an area of 236, 580 sq. km, Uganda is bordered by Sudan in the north, Kenya to the east, Tanzania and Rwanda in the South while the Democratic Republic of Congo is to the west. It is a country blessed with varied and spectacular scenery to fill one action packed holiday and still leave scores of other experiences to be enjoyed on a return trip.
From the snow capped Rwenzori Mountains through the virgin rolling hills of the eland to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, from Lake Victoria down the mighty Nile River to Murchison falls National Park, the country Uganda contains immense natural and cultural wealth.
It is in Uganda that over 50% of the worlds endangered Gorillas are still preserved; it is the same place where the mighty Nile starts its long journey to the Mediterranean Sea.
Uganda is undoubtedly renowned for its Mountain gorillas. However, the country is more than just gorillas! For magnificence, the cheetah and Ostrich in Kidepo National Park, the Giraffes and Crocodiles in Murchison falls, Zebras and Eland in Lake Mburo National Park, are a must see. The launch cruise along Kazinga channel and the Nile River famed for their close view of hippos, birds and crocodiles not forgetting the tree climbing lions of Queen Elizabeth National Park are all true rewards to the discerning traveler.
But the magic of safari isn’t all this great country has to offer. For the more intrepid adventures bungee jumping and a climb to the snow capped legendary mountains of the moon – Mt. Rwenzori are a must for the daring. Other interesting offers include chimpanzee tracking, birding, fishing, Kayaking and the friendly people that complete the true story of Uganda.
Cultural tourism is also a popular choice for many visitors to Uganda. History buffs will find Uganda’s story an interesting one and will delight in exploring the relics of Uganda’s unique Kingdoms.
Characterized by 23 years of dramatic tourism growth, Uganda’s GDP is now at 6.5% with a budget that is 70% self sufficient. A big portion of the country’s land mass is dedicated to wildlife parks, thereby keeping Uganda on track as it preserves endangered and great wildlife and bird species.
With a diverse mixture of traditional tribes and cosmopolitan professionals Uganda is the place to go.
So welcome to Uganda – experience the warmth of our people and spectacular wildlife.
A total of 844,000 foreigners visited Uganda in 2008, representing a 32% increase over 2007. As a key contributor to Uganda’s GDP tourism accounted for 3.7% of the total. Despite this increase, it is clear that Uganda’s tourism industry is now facing difficult times as a result of the financial melt down.
Gorilla Permits, Uganda’s trump card has decreased drastically as visitors choose more affordable safari options.
There was growing optimism that Uganda would soon achieve the 1 million foreign visitor mark by 2012. However, with the current economic melt down experienced globally and domestically, the effect on Uganda’s tourism industry is likely to be worse.
The unstable fuel costs and fluctuating dollar rate means that long-haul tourism is on the decline, particularly for middle income tourists. This has already had an effect on Uganda’s tourism industry.
As long haul travel becomes increasingly unaffordable, the integration of the East African region is now paramount for the region to achieve its tourism targets. However, reasonable controls such as some degree of protection for the Ugandan tour operators should be taken into consideration as we go into the final stages of the East African re integration.
The drop in visitors from all major source markets including UK and USA is now evident. According to research firm Trip Advisor, 58% of UK consumers are likely to or have already been influenced by the economic down town when it comes to choosing a holiday this year.
With the deepening of the global financial crisis and economic slowdown, there is a rise of new challenges ranging from safari cancellations to souring inflation rates now believed to have settled at 14.8%.
These challenges thus call for a cash injection so as to help in facilitating tourism research, marketing and work force issues for the better of Uganda’s Tourism industry.