Best Places to see Wild Gorillas in Africa
Heard about gorillas, where to see them and trekking? I dare you to read this article and be in the know about all of the African destinations where you can see wild gorillas.
Gorillas are the largest living primates and the only great apes that are having a population increase especially for Mountain Gorillas. Gorillas are ground-dwelling herbivorous apes inhabiting the Central Sub-saharan Africa forests.
Two species are found in the genus Gorilla and these are the Eastern gorillas and western gorillas unfortunately both species are endangered. From the two species are four subspecies.
- Eastern gorilla (Gorilla beringei) has two subspecies which are the Mountain gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei) and the Eastern lowland gorilla (Gorilla beringei graueri). A proposed sub specie of the Gorilla beringei is the gorilla population in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park that has not yet received a trinomen but sometimes called the Bwindi gorilla. However, its popular that the Bwindi forest is home to the Mountain gorilla.
- Western gorilla (Gorilla gorilla) is classified into two subspecies that are known as the western lowland gorilla (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) the smallest of the four subspecies and the Cross River gorilla (Gorilla gorilla diehli).
In the past decades, gorillas have captivated human curiosity and aroused the need to see them and conserve their remaining populations. To learn and understand gorilla behavior and their nature one must journey to the central African rainforests where these elusive gentle giants roam. To have a lifetime experience of coming face to face with these giants here are the best places to see gorillas in the wild;
Where to see & trek Mountain Gorillas in Africa
Mountain gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei) is a subspecies of the Eastern gorilla. Mountain gorillas live in the high altitude forests with an altitude of 2,200 -4,300 meters above sea level, this could be the reason as to why mountain gorillas have more fur than all other gorillas. Mountain gorillas were moved from the IUCN Red list of critically endangered to endangered after the last census, a step to successful conservation.
Mountain gorillas only live in their natural habitats within three countries which are Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Within these rare species living within specific areas, here is where you can see mountain gorillas in these three countries;
In Uganda, Mountain gorillas can be seen in two national parks which are Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park.
- Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
The mountain gorilla population in Bwindi forest is proposed to be a different subspecies from the Gorilla beringei beringei that is Mgahinga though the Bwindi population hasn’t yet received atrinomen. The Bwindi population is said to be different because research carried out by Craig Stanford showed that the Bwindi gorilla diet is markedly higher in fruit than that of the Virunga population.
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is located in southwestern Uganda on the edge of the Albertine Rift composed of montane and lowland forest. The park hosts about 600 mountain gorillas and this makes up almost half of the total world population of mountain gorillas.
The only way of seeing mountain gorillas of Bwindi forest during a gorilla safari in Uganda is by undertaking a gorilla trekking safari in the park. To qualify for a gorilla trek in Bwindi to meet one of the habituated gorilla families in the park, one is required to be above 15 years of age and must have purchased a gorilla trekking or habituation permit.
- Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is home to one habituated gorilla family known as the Nyakagezi Gorilla Family. In 2019, Mgahinga Park was ranked the 3rd best must photograph travel destination and therefore one of those places where you will take a shot of the Mountain gorilla and throw it back on social years after.
Mgahinga is within the Virunga Massif a chain of 8 extinct volcanoes that is shared by Uganda, Rwanda and Congo. The park is situated in Kisoro district south western Uganda, accessed either from Uganda or Rwanda by flight or popularly by road using a 4×4 safari vehicle.
Uganda is the only world country with two habitats hosting the mountain gorilla species.
Rwanda, a beautiful country referred to as the land of a thousand hills is also home to mountain gorillas found in Volcanoes National Park. This is the only trekking point for Rwanda gorilla safaris and the closest mountain gorilla park from its country’s capital. It’s just a 2 hours drive from Kigali city to Volcanoes National Park.
All of the mountain gorillas in the park have been habituated and therefore safe to trek. The mountain gorillas of Volcanoes National Park as well as those in the virunga massif are known to trek for shorter distances and therefore easier to trek than the Bwindi gorillas.
Democratic Republic of Congo
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, one can see gorillas on a Congo gorilla safari to Virunga National Park situated in the eastern part of the country. Virunga National Park is situated in the Albertine Rift Valley and Africa’s oldest national park created in 1925 and is listed in the List of World Heritage in Danger since 1994.
Virunga National Park is the only host to the Eastern gorilla subspecies of the mountain gorillas in Central Africa. Unfortunately, the park is situated in a region which has been deeply impacted by the effects of war and armed conflict which is a threat to the mountain gorilla population in the park.
Note: Mountain gorillas live in their natural habitats except for Amahoro a female eastern lowland gorilla at Antwerp zoo in Belgium and a few mountain gorillas kept captive though within their natural habitat in the Democratic Republic of Congo to protect them from rebel groups.
Where to see & trek the Eastern lowland gorillas
The Eastern lowland gorilla also known as Grauer’s gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei) is a subspecies of the Eastern gorilla. Unlike their relatives, the mountain gorillas that are in three countries, the eastern lowland gorillas are endemic (only found) in the mountainous forests of eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
This is the largest of the four gorilla subspecies and they can be seen and trekked in these parks and reserves;
- Kahuzi-Biega National Park
Kahuzi-Biega National Park is home to eastern lowland gorillas, a protected area near Bukavu town situated near the western bank of Lake Kivu. The park is named after two dormant volcanoes that are Kahuzi and Biega respectively. The park is comprised of both mountainous and lowland terrains that inhabits the population of eastern lowland gorillas.
- Maiko National Park
Maiko National Park lies in one of the most remote forest areas of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The park is divided into three sectors, straddling the states of Nord Kivu, Province Orientale and Maniema. The park has however, been highly affected by the rebel groups in the country that have hindered conservation efforts.
Where to see the Western gorilla Specie
The western gorilla (Gorilla gorilla) is the most populous species of the genus gorilla. The western gorilla is listed as critically endangered populations highly reduced by the Ebola virus. There are two subspecies of the western gorilla and these are the Western lowland gorilla and the Cross River gorilla.
- Western lowland gorilla
The western lowland gorilla (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) lives in the montane, primary and secondary forests and lowland swamps of central Africa. Western lowland gorillas are the smallest of the gorilla subspecies and can be seen in the countries of;
- Central African Republic
- Republic of the Congo
- Democratic Republic of the Congo
- Equatorial Guinea
Unlike the Mountain gorillas, that can not survive in zoos, the western lowland gorilla is popularly kept in zoos.
- Cross River Gorilla
The Cross River gorilla (Gorilla gorilla diehli) is the most western and northern form of gorilla. This gorilla subspecies is restricted within the forested hills and mountains of the Cameroon-Nigeria border region at the headwaters of the Cross River in Nigeria.
Gorillas are rare species and amazing to encounter face to face with their intellectual abilities. Seeing gorillas in Africa is possible in all of the above mentioned destinations but trekking/tracking gorillas stands as an activity that can only be done in Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Popular Gorilla trekking safari packages
Plan to have a gorilla safari either on a short or long trip tailored with other activities. Here are our well planned itineraries that you can choose from and as well tailor to a Kenya safari or Tanzania wildlife safari.