Posts Tagged ‘Mgahinga’

Mountain Gorilla Trekking

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.

The third sub specie – the Mountain Gorilla (Gorilla gorilla beringei) was identified for science purposes in the year 1903 and has gone on to become Uganda’s star attraction.

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 VolcansRwanda 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.

GORILLA RULES

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

Gorilla Tracking charges lowered

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.

According to the Uganda Tourism Board (UTB), tourist arrivals continue to increase thus have led to recent increases in forex earnings from $590m in 2008 to about US$650 m in 2010.

Get the Feel, Thrill of Mount Mgahinga

TEA & Agencies

Nestled in the south western tip of Uganda on the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mount Mgahinga has an area of just 34 square kilometres and is the Uganda’s smallest national park.

It encompasses the Uganda side of the three Bufumbira volcanic mountains of Mgahinga at 3400 metres high, Sabinyo at 3645m and Muhavura at 4127m.

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.