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Visiting the Mountain Gorillas

July 22, 2014

Visiting the mountain gorillas: A lifetime experience

Hiking to visit the gorillas in their forest homeVisiting the mountain gorillas in the forests of Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park is said by those who experience it to be one of the highlights of their lives. Taking the trip in conjunction with the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund makes it even more memorable, as these travelers get to meet Fossey Fund staff and learn more about the work of saving gorillas and the history of Dian Fossey’s pioneering conservation efforts, in addition to seeing the gorillas in the wild.

After a recent trip to Rwanda and a trek to see the gorillas, Fossey Fund board member Rebecca Rooney said that “mountain gorilla tracking and viewing is the most thrilling wildlife experience a person can have. Seeing the gorillas and how humanlike they are – their expressions, their relationships – makes for a life-changing experience.”

“Rwanda is a gloriously beautiful country and the people are enchanting, but nothing could have prepared my husband and me for the experience of spending time among a family of wild gorillas,” said Kit Gwin, who also visited the gorillas this summer. “We were expecting thrills and chills but, much to our surprise, it was more akin to a relaxing, intimate visit with old friends. We felt welcome and at home among the great apes. They are thoughtful and playful, funny and peaceful, loving and gentle and so very expressive. They are truly magnificent creatures.

“That first sight of just one graceful gorilla takes your breath away. Being among an entire family is one for the bucket list,” adds Gwin.

Arranging the trip

For this kind of experience, travelers can go on the Fossey Fund’s arranged trips and/or can work with travel partner Global Adrenaline to plan their own trips, as well as to plan extensions to arranged trips.

Trips arranged by the Fossey Fund include a wide array of activities in addition to gorilla treks. For example, a special visit to the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund’s Karisoke Research Center offers a behind-the-scenes look at the facility, including the labs, research center, and special projects. Because these trips are led by Fossey Fund senior staff, travelers gain insights that do not come from other arranged trips. They also get to meet the Fossey Fund staff and researchers who are carrying on Dian Fossey’s legacy.

In addition to gorilla treks, arranged trips also include visits to the Kigali Memorial Centre, a behind-the-scenes look at the Fossey Fund’s Karisoke Research Center to meet staff and researchers, and a morning tracking the unique golden monkeys.

A traveller's view of the gorillasBut seeing the mountain gorillas in their natural habitat, within their groups, going about their daily activities – feeding on various plants, youngsters playing, silverbacks keeping an eye on the situation, or everyone taking a rest stop – is always the main focus of the trip.

“To witness the gorillas in their environment feels quite intimate. To see them interact with one another seemingly unaffected by our presence is glorious,” says Lacey Greer, another recent traveler. “The gorillas are truly natural and free. We are the self-conscious animals. They live in a paradise of green that we are privileged to see. All the exertion expended to get to them falls away at first sight.”

Gorilla tourism helps conservation and community

According to the Rwanda Development Board, some $300 million have been raised over the last 10 years through entry fees to Volcanoes National Park, where the mountain gorillas live. Much of these funds came from tourists purchasing permits to visit the gorillas. In addition to supporting park protection and maintenance, a portion of these funds also goes back to communities surrounding the park, resulting, for example, in the building of numerous primary schools over the years.

“Seeing the mountain gorillas is both a unique opportunity and a gift,” says Rebecca Rooney. “Not long ago, the mountain gorilla was almost extinct. Without the hard work of the Fossey Fund on the ground and conservation efforts in Rwanda and worldwide, there would probably be no mountain gorillas alive today in the Virungas.”

For more information about mountain gorilla treks arranged by the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, as well as dates for upcoming trips, visit gorillafund.org/gorilla_expeditions .