October 22, 2007

Uganda: Gorilla rules

It's confirmed, and I'm excited. Dana and I will be tracking mountain gorillas in Uganda's Virunga Mountains in February.

After vetting it via email conversations with over a dozen of its past clients (thanks to all who responded), I chose Churchill Safaris in Kampala to take us to Bwindi Impenetrable (and when you zoom down on it using Google Earth, it sure looks it...) Forest. There, we'll hike up into the densely forested mountains to spend one hour with a band of 18 mountain gorillas. Churchill secured us two gorilla permits to track the Nkuringo band in Bwindi's southwest corner, on February 18. Rangers and wildlife professionals spent years habituating the Nkuringo band to human contact, and tourist access to this band, arguably Uganda's remotest and most difficult to reach, is fairly recent. We've been told to prepare for a strenuous uphill hike of up to six hours from the trailhead before we locate the gorilla band.

There are fewer than 700 wild mountain gorillas left in the world, and they live in protected habitats in Uganda, Rwanda and Congo. To visit Uganda's gorillas, you must have a gorilla permit ($500 each) issued by the Uganda Wildlife Authority. Only 40 permits are authorized per day, and they are often secured a year in advance. Churchill managed to locate and scoop up two permits available during the time period that Dana and I will be in Uganda.

I'll be posting more about this trip, as the planning goes forward and, of course, when we return. For now, I thought I'd share one of the documents that Churchill sent with our safari confirmation, "Gorilla rules," copied here verbatim:

"Gorilla rules

No eating or drinking near the gorillas
Don drop litter in the park.
Flash photography is not permitted
Keep distance of minimum 5 meters or 15 feet from the gorillas.
Visits are limited to one hour per gorilla group per day.
Your group must be no more than 6 people and all at least 15 years old.
No smoking near the gorillas
Do not touch the gorillas.
After or before the visit keep your voices down until 200 meters away from the gorillas.
Do not look at the gorillas directly into the eyes.
You must stay as a tight group when near the gorillas.
If you must sneeze or cough cover your face and turn away from the gorillas.
If you have a cold or any infectious illness, do not visit the gorillas.
In case of an emergency toilet, dig a hole of 30cm and fill it up after use"

Gorilla rules. Pretty wild.