Mountain gorillas are critically endangered, which makes the life-changing experience of visiting them in their natural habitat even more extraordinary and precious. There are said to be less than 900 African mountain gorillas left in the wild, although exact estimates vary – 700 (National Geographic) and 880 (World Wildlife Fund). The rare opportunity to see a family of gorillas in pristine rain forests is not only one of the ultimate wildlife experiences in Africa, it is also a once-in-a-lifetime expedition that sadly may not be possible in the future.
The main countries offering gorilla trekking tours in Africa are Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) – all three in central Africa. The natural environment of these mountain gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei) is dense rain forest, and more specifically the moist tropical and subtropical forests of the Albertine Rift in central Africa.
Southern Uganda hosts 13 gorilla groups in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, one of which is found in the area designated as Mgahinga Gorilla National Park. The groups inhabiting the southern part of Uganda, in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park, are: Rushegura, Mubare and Habinyanja – three families in the Buhoma area. Nkuringo family – one group in the Nkuringo area. Butukura, Oruzogo and Kyaguriro – three families in the Ruhija area. Mishaya, Nshongi, Kahungye, Busingye and Bweza – five families in the Rushaga area
Mgahinga National Park hosts one family group of gorillas, called Nyakagezi. In the past the Nyakagezi group moved between Rwanda and Uganda, but for the last two years these gorillas have been staying put in Uganda. The family group consists of ten gorillas, including four silver back males.
Just over half of the world’s remaining mountain gorillas (about 480 according to WWF) are found in the broader Virunga Conservation Area (Virunga Mountains), which includes the well-managed Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda. This is where the legendary and iconic gorillas conservationist, Dian Fossey, lived and worked with gorillas. The gorillas here are more habituated than in other areas, meaning that they are more accustomed to having humans around. There are seven gorilla families that can be visited in Volcanoes National Park.
In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) Mountain gorillas are found in the Virunga National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Located in eastern DRC this national park borders on Uganda and Rwanda. Virunga – Heather Thorkelson the 7800 km² Virunga National Park is home to about 200 of gorillas (National Geographic), living mostly in the southern areas of the park. The national park is managed by the Congolese National Park Authorities, together with the Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN) and its partner the Africa Conservation Fund. After a decline in numbers about seven years ago, due to brutal attacks in which at least 10 gorillas were killed, the gorilla population has recovered somewhat. The population is more stable now, largely thanks to the brave efforts of rangers risking their lives in Virunga National Park.