Is it Ethical to Go on a Gorilla Trek?

Ethical to Go on a Gorilla Trek: A gorilla trek is a thrilling experience that allows tourists to get close and personal with the endangered mountain gorillas. Ethical to go on a gorilla trek means experiencing them in a way that prioritizes their well-being and habitat conservation. Gorilla treks are one of Africa’s most popular safari experiences and every year, thousands of travelers from all around the globe flood Africa’s gorilla countries to interact with these magnificent endangered apes in their natural habitat.

Mountain gorillas are endangered animals with only about 1000 individuals remaining and can only be found in the Virunga Mountain Ranges of Eastern and Central Africa. Uganda harbors half of the population of these giants and is the only country with two mountain gorilla national parks: Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park. Mountain gorillas in Africa can also be found in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park and the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Virunga National Park.  

Ethical to Go on a Gorilla Trek

Is it Ethical to Go on a Gorilla Trek

Yes, going on a gorilla trek is ethical. Mountain gorillas are one of IUCN’s (International Union for Conservation of Nature) listed endangered creatures meaning that at one point they were on the verge of extinction. Thanks to the efforts by the respective gorilla governments that have introduced gorilla trekking as a conservation strategy, emphasizing both conservation and poverty alleviation. Over the past decade, gorilla trekking demonstrated how responsible tourism can be inclusive and beneficial for African communities.

In response to the critical poaching and killing of mountain gorillas in the 1990s, Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) established national parks like Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Mgahinga National Park, Volcanoes National Park, and Virunga National Park. 

These protected areas not only safeguarded gorilla habitats but also reduced poaching and human-gorilla conflicts. After recognizing the link between conservation and community welfare, governments implemented revenue-sharing programs, with 20% of gorilla trekking revenue going to local communities. Generally, gorilla trekking is a topic that stirs up complex ethical considerations, blending aspects of conservation, tourism, and the impact on the local people. Let’s dive into the details of its ethical dimensions;

Protection of the Gorillas and their Habitats

Gorilla tourism has been crucial for the survival of mountain gorillas in Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo providing significant benefits that have helped sustain their endangered populations. 

However, the presence of tourists can also have negative impacts on gorillas and their habitats. Increased human activity in these areas can lead to habitat degradation, disturbance of wildlife, and potential transmission of diseases from humans to gorillas since they share 98% of the human DNA As a result, there are specific guidelines upheld by both trekkers and park rangers to ensure the gorillas’ well-being and conservation of their habitat for future generations. The guidelines for gorilla trekking are applicable across all gorilla safari destinations and aim to create an eco-friendly environment in the gorilla habitats.

First of all, to trek mountain gorillas, any traveler is required to obtain a gorilla permit and permits can be obtained from the Uganda Wildlife Authority in Uganda, the Rwanda Development Board in Rwanda, and the Ministry of Tourism in DRC. The permits can be obtained directly through a reputable tour operator. Due to the high demand for gorilla trekking, securing a permit well in advance, ideally 3-6 months beforehand, is recommended to avoid missing out.

Gorilla trekking is done daily at 8:00 am, and every gorilla trekking experience starts with a briefing session conducted by local park rangers and park wardens at the park headquarters. This briefing covers essential dos and don’ts during gorilla trekking, as well as ensuring a safe and respectful experience for both visitors and the gorillas. 

Moreover, only a maximum of eight trekkers are allowed to visit a single particular gorilla group per day. This is aimed at minimizing disturbance and disease transmission such as flu, cough, and diarrhea, among other infections. This limit aims to reduce behavioral disruptions for the gorillas and ensure a peaceful encounter with the Great Apes.

Overall, the introduction of gorilla trekking and other gorilla activities has brought about substantial financial support that has increased conservation initiatives for the animals and their natural habitats. Moreover, gorilla tourism has provided alternative income sources for the local communities, reducing their dependence on activities that gorilla habitats.


The Conservation Impact 

Proponents of gorilla trekking argue that it provides a crucial source of funding for the conservation of endangered species like mountain gorillas. For instance, seeing mountain gorillas necessitates obtaining a valid gorilla permit which can be acquired through trustworthy tour operators in the respective gorilla safari destinations. 

A gorilla trekking permit in Uganda currently costs \$800, \$1500 in Rwanda and \$400 in DRC. These permit fees often cover the gorilla trekking experience, guide fees, park entrance, and gorilla conservation activities. As a result, the revenue generated contributes to habitat protection, anti-poaching efforts, and community development programs in areas surrounding gorilla habitats. For example, in Rwanda, where gorillas are the major tourist attraction, a significant portion of the revenue goes towards conservation and local community projects.

Preservation of Local Communities

Another ethical dimension of gorilla trekking involves the rights and interests of local communities. Gorilla tourism has significantly contributed to conservation funding and provided crucial income diversification for communities residing near gorilla habitats. Instead of poaching and encroaching on the gorilla habitats, the locals now have the opportunity to find employment as local tour guides, and in the gorilla lodges as well as tour companies operating near the gorilla parks. As a result, there is a balance between operating gorilla tourism and respecting the rights, culture, and livelihoods of these communities.

Ethical to Go on a Gorilla Trek

Ethical Rules and Regulations for a Gorilla Trek

  • To partake in a gorilla trek, all trekkers must acquire a valid gorilla trekking permit issued by the relevant wildlife authority.
  • Any traveler must be 15 years of age and above to be able to partake in a gorilla trek.
  • Only a maximum of eight people are allowed to trek a single gorilla family per day. This helps reduce disturbance to the gorillas and their natural behavior.
  • During trekking, visitors are required to stay with trained guides and park rangers at all times, in addition to following their instructions.
  • A safe distance of about 7 meters must be maintained from the gorillas at all times to minimize stress and prevent disease transmission between humans and gorillas.
  • Visits to gorilla families are typically limited to a specific time frame, usually one hour to minimize disruption to the gorillas’ daily routines and too much interaction with humans.
  • While observing the mountain gorillas, visitors are prohibited from touching, feeding, or interacting physically with the gorillas. This prevents the gorillas from being aggressive and reduces the risk of disease transmission.
  • During trekking, tourists are expected to conduct themselves quietly and avoid sudden movements that may startle or disturb the gorillas, causing them to charge.
  • Flash photography while observing the gorillas is strictly prohibited.
  • Follow waste disposal guidelines: Proper waste disposal practices, including carrying out all non-biodegradable waste from the trekking area, help maintain the gorillas’ natural habitat.


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