Gorilla Trekking Rules & Safety

Gorilla Trekking Rules & Safety
By Charlotte Beauvoisin

Tourists are only allowed to visit and interact with habituated mountain gorilla families. Habituation is a gradual process through which the gorillas get used to the presence of humans. This allows people to visit the gorillas without affecting their daily lives or natural behaviour.

Although the gorillas are habituated, the Rwanda Development Board and the Uganda Wildlife Authority enforce rules governing how tourists can interact with the animals. The following (revised in light of the pandemic) are for the safety and wellbeing of the gorillas and tourists and are considered non-negotiable:

  • Your group is allowed a maximum of one hour with the gorillas.
  • Visitors to the gorillas must be over the age of 15.
  • The maximum group size for tracking the gorillas is eight people in Rwanda and six people in Uganda (plus rangers and porters).
  • Trekking in thick forest at an altitude of over 2,000 metres (6,560 ft) can be tough. It is often wet. Gorilla trekkers must be fit and in good health.
  • You should not go gorilla trekking if you have Covid-19, diarrhoea, flu or a cold. Gorillas have no immunity to most human diseases and even mild human infections can be lethal to a gorilla. The Covid-19 pandemic has made us even more aware of the risk we pose to them. You are obliged to inform the authorities if you are sick and they will decide if you are well enough to visit the gorillas. Remember that the lives of the endangered gorillas are more important than your holiday.
  • If you need to sneeze or cough, cover your nose and mouth to reduce the chance of spreading infection.
  • Don't spit or leave litter in the forest. Gorillas can catch diseases from human rubbish.
  • Always leave a distance of ten metres between you and the gorillas. If the gorillas start moving towards you, the rangers may advise you to move away from them.
  • Gorillas can be quite curious. Do not touch the gorillas, even if they come close to you.
  • Do not make any sudden movements.
  • If a gorilla charges, do not run away. Avoid direct eye contact until the gorilla has moved away. Stay calm and slowly crouch down.
  • Stay in your group. Do not crowd or surround the gorillas.
  • If you need to go to the toilet in the forest, tell your guide and he will dig a hole for you. Cover the hole afterwards to prevent spreading disease to the gorillas.
  • Flash photography is strictly forbidden.

Follow these simple, common-sense rules and your visit will be a positive one—for the gorillas as well as yourself.

Covid-19-specific regulations

The Covid-19 crisis has caused significant disruption to Rwanda and Uganda’s national parks. The primate parks of East Africa deserve particular protection since their signature species are highly vulnerable to Covid-19.

Uganda and Rwanda have both received the Global Safety and Hygiene Stamp from the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC). This means they have adopted global standardised Covid-19 protocols developed by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

If you plan to track the gorillas, there are additional standard operating procedures in place for everyone; visitors, guides, and staff members alike. (These protocols also apply to tracking chimpanzees.)

Masks must be worn from the moment you arrive at the national park to confirm your booking and meet the guides for your pre-trek briefing. It's interesting to note that for a number of years many primatologists have argued that humans should wear masks when they visit gorillas. It's therefore likely that the wearing of masks to track primates will continue, regardless of the current pandemic.

Another change is the minimum distance visitors must keep from the apes, which has increased from 23 feet (7 meters) to 32 feet (approximately 10 meters).

In addition, there are a number of country-specific protocols:

Uganda

In Uganda, you will be instructed to wash and sanitise your hands and your temperature will be taken at several points during your trek to see the gorillas. Visitors must carry a minimum of two masks: one to wear while you are trekking and a second (new / clean) one to put on for the hour that you spend in the presence of the gorillas. You are advised that you must wear N95 masks, surgical masks or double-layered cloth masks.

A maximum of six visitors (plus rangers and porters) can visit each gorilla group per day (previously eight visitors were allowed).

Rwanda

To visit the gorillas in Volcanoes National Park, you will need to show the negative PT-PCR test certificate that you received after your arrival in the country.

Before entering the park, you will be asked to sanitise all your belongings. Masks must be worn throughout the gorilla trekking experience. You can wear the same face mask for a maximum of three hours only. For the hour with the gorillas, you must wear a surgical quality face mask. It’s therefore recommended you take at least one (clean / new) spare mask.

A maximum of eight visitors (plus rangers and porters) can track the gorillas in Rwanda.

Entry to Uganda

To board your flight to Uganda, you’ll need to show a negative RT-PCR test certificate. You will also need to show this certificate to officials upon arrival at Entebbe Airport. The test must be taken within 120 hours of your arrival to Uganda.

At Entebbe Airport your temperature will be taken. Passengers who show Covid-19 symptoms will be tested and kept in isolation until they test negative. A positive test will necessitate two-week quarantine at the visitor’s expense. (Visitors to Uganda also need to show a valid Yellow Fever certificate).

Visitors will also need a negative RT-PCR test certificate in order to board a flight out of Uganda. This test should be done within 72 hours of boarding. Uganda has a number of facilities for testing; certain providers may come to your hotel. Pricing varies but expect to pay approximately US$100.

Entry to Rwanda

Inbound travellers are required to present a negative RT-PCR test certificate. This must be performed within 120 hours of departure (meaning travellers must be tested and receive results within five days of their first flight).

All travellers to Rwanda must complete a Public Health Passenger Locator Form and upload this with their Covid-19 test certificate before heading to the airport. This information is used to contact you if you (or someone you’ve been in contact with while traveling to Rwanda) develops Covid-19 symptoms.

A second RT-PCR test will be conducted upon arrival at Kanombe Airport in Kigali, at your own expense. The fee is US$60 ($50 the test and $10 to cover logistics at the airport). Screening procedures include a temperature check. All arrivals must check in at one of the designated ‘quarantine hotels’ for a period of not less than 24 hours while waiting for test results. The test result is valid for 120 hours.

Travellers departing from Rwanda must also test negative for Covid-19 within 120 hours prior to departure. RT-PCR tests are available in Kigali and Musanze (the closest town to the gorilla trekking region.)

Gorilla Trekking Rules & Safety

Charlotte Beauvoisin

Charlotte is a travel blogger based on the edge of Kibale Forest, Uganda. She is a contributor to the Bradt Uganda Guidebook and has written for Lonely Planet, The Daily Telegraph and Fodor's. She first arrived in Uganda in 2009 as a Voluntary Service Overseas volunteer with the Uganda Conservation Foundation.

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