Mountain gorillas are endangered primates species that are only remaining in three countries on the entire planet that are Uganda, Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo. Mountain gorillas prefer living in the tropical rain forested mountainous areas and are vegetarians that feed on plant leaves, wild fruits and bamboo shoots. Mountain gorillas are some of the closest human being primates with about 98% of their DNA similar to humans but this does not dispute the fact that they are still wild animals and can attack anyone incase provoked.
Over the years, mountain gorilla tourism has gained momentum as more and more adventurous tourists head to the forested mountains to encounter these great apes in the natural homes. What one may wonder is how tourists track gorillas and be in their presence for one hour with being attacked and come back safely just praising the once in a lifetime experience they have just had. Well, the answer to that is mountain gorilla habituation.
Mountain gorilla habituation is a process by which mountain gorillas are familiarized with human beings presence in their natural habitants. This is done to make sure that mountain gorillas do not shy a way or attack tourists who go tracking. Habituation is a very long process that usually begins with mountain gorilla researchers and well-experienced rangers heading to the jungle everyday, tracking the mountain gorilla family to be habituated, following the gorillas to where ever they go, sitting down with them and closely observing their behavior. This is at first very hectic as mountain gorilla are by nature a little shy and do not like any interference from strangers.
In the first weeks of habituation the mountain gorillas usually move away from the rangers and the researchers and some actually go the higher slopes of the mountains to keep their families safe from the people as per this time they are not yet sure of the human beings intentions. This however does not discourage the rangers and the researchers as they continue following the gorillas more until they reach a point and stop running away and start attacking instead.
The mountain gorillas attack by beating their chest and making a noise to scare the people away. At this point, the rangers and the researchers try to protect themselves against getting serious injuries keep on following the gorillas until they realize that the people do not mean any harm.
As these rangers and researchers continue coming face to face with the gorillas, they get used to their presence and instead of running away and attacking they instead keep around and continue doing their daily routine like feeding and sometimes relaxing. This however does not mean that the gorillas are ready for tourists as at this point they are just used to the faces of the rangers and the researchers. In order to make them used to tourists, 2 to 3 new people start going with some rangers and researchers and when the gorillas are not disturbed, they are then opened to tourist’s visitation.
The habituation process takes several months and some times a year depending on how quickly the mountain gorillas adapt to the changes.
Even though the mountain gorillas are usually habituated, tourists on mountain gorilla safaris are expected to follow some guidelines while in their presence like keeping a reasonable distance at least 7 meters away from them, avoid making a lot of noise in order not to distract them, not using flash photography, not imitating mountain gorilla behavior and not touching a mountain gorilla especially the young ones as it would irritate the mountain gorillas.
Mountain gorilla tracking is a very enjoyed adventure and in Uganda it can be done in Bwindi impenetrable and Mgahinga gorilla national parks, in Rwanda it can be done in volcanoes national park and in DR Congo it can be done in Virunga national park.