With approximately 790 still roaming the earth as of 2010, the mountain gorilla is a critically endangered species that could disappear completely within the next three generations.
These gentle giants reside on the slopes of three dormant volcanoes near the borders of Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The region has been plagued by decades of civil unrest and war, though this has subsided in recent years, especially in Uganda and Rwanda. Regardless, local militias and government corruption have put conservation efforts at risk.
Humans tend to hunt the gorillas not for their meat, but rather for their head, hands, and feet, which are sold to collectors. Probably the most notable case of this calamity occurred when world-renowned gorilla expert Dian Fossey’s favorite gorilla, Digit, was killed by poachers and his hands were cut off and sold as ashtrays for $20.
Deforestation has also led to major habitat loss. Human settlement increasingly encroaches upon gorilla territory, and the animals are extremely susceptible to human disease.
To visit these creatures in their natural habitat is a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience. It’s not uncommon to be a few feet from a colossal silverback noshing on vegetation, a mother grooming her offspring, or young gorillas wrestling. One visitor recalled “They appear so powerful yet their eyes are like an innocent infant.”
The only way to visit these elusive creatures is through an organized tour in Uganda or Rwanda. Most groups live in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, and also in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park. You must secure a gorilla trekking permit ($500) through either the Rwanda Tourism Board offices in Kigali or Musanze, or the Uganda Wildlife Authority in Kampala. Permits can be reserved up to two years in advance, though last minute permits are known to be available.
Part of a NileGuide Special Report: 25 Destinations to See Before They Change Forever.
[Image of mountain gorilla: rwandatourism.com]