RANGE: A ten-year survey in western equatorial Africa found over 360,000 gorillas inhabit the region, though numbers are falling
THE EXPERIENCE: A silverback is a formidable sight. You expect it to be ‘big’, but it’s the power that blows you away. And while there’s a whole lot of rules (sit low, don’t point, don’t stare) when you see one, it can be hard to recall anything in the moment. Still, it’s worth it to witness the intricate family dynamics of a primate still living on the brink of survival.
NEED TO KNOW: Spotting gorillas in the wild isn’t straightforward. Tours are the only way to see them and these are subject to strict time limits (typically an hour), while permits must be secured in advance. Nor will you be allowed on a tour if you’re sick, as infections can be passed on to the primates. You need to be fit, too, as you’ll be walking at altitude with no paths and hikes can take from 30 minutes to ten hours. Visits are easiest in the drier months (Jan–feb; Jun–aug); discounts on permits can be found in wetter periods (Apr, May & Nov) but be warned that the conditions are much harder going.
BEST PLACE TO SEE… In the north of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Uganda, where three of the nation’s 11 habituated gorilla families live, extended visits (four hours) are permitted. Elsewhere, Rwanda’s Volcanoes NP is famed for its gorillas, but visits come at a cost (permit: US$1,500 compared to Uganda’s US$450+). For a truly remote escape, Odzala-kokoua NP in Congo-brazzaville has a trio of fly-in camps, with ⊲ treks into its dense biodiverse forests revealing families of western lowland gorillas – a truly wild sight.
Wary wonder A dominant male mountain gorilla surveys his audience in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park, Uganda