Mountain gorillas are shy endangered ground dwelling apes that you can only see in Africa. To wildlife photographers, mountain gorillas are some of the animals that are sought-after during photography safaris. These tailless apes are some of our closest cousins sharing much of the human DNA.
There are three African countries that host the mountain gorillas. However, two countries are mostly known for mountain gorilla treks and these are; Uganda and Rwanda. Are you planning a gorilla safari in Africa? Here is some information that you need to plan a perfect photography safari.
Where to Go
Photography Safaris in Uganda
Uganda is the most popular destination for gorilla trekking tours in the world. This East African country is known to host almost half of the world’s population of the rare mountain gorillas. Apart from the mountain gorillas, Uganda also has a wide range of wildlife primates to visit in its top ten national Parks. There is also a wide scope of different bird species to see within the Pearl of Africa. Other tremendous physical landmarks include Mountain Rwenzori and Elgon, several waterfalls formed by the River Nile and other sights that you will witness it on your gorilla photography safari.
While in Uganda, trips to see the Shy endangered mountain gorillas are conducted in two major national parks namely Bwindi Impenetrable National park and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park. Therefore, if you are looking forward to doing a gorilla photo safari in Uganda Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park will be your ultimate travel destinations.
Bwindi impenetrable Forest National Park:
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is a UNESCO world heritage site with a good thriving population of the mountain gorillas. This protected area is located in the western part of Uganda. This park is part of the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and is situated along the Democratic Republic of the Congo border separated by a few kilometers with the Virunga National Park. It is located on the edge of the Albertine Rift and thus there is a bonus of unrivalled birding where you will see the Albertine endemics. Composed of 331km2 of both montane and lowland forest, it is accessible only on foot since its characterized with thick impenetrable forest where the Mountain Gorillas live.
Ron Van Oers [CC BY-SA 3.0-igo], via Wikimedia Commons
Bwindi is rich in biodiversity. It provides habitat to 120 species of mammals, 348 species of birds, 220 species of butterflies, 27 species of frogs, chameleons, geckos, and many endangered species. Floristically, the park is among the most diverse forests in East Africa, with more than 1,000 flowering plant species, including 163 species of trees and 104 species of ferns.
It is known to be hosting the most part of Uganda’s Gorilla population grouped in four sectors named Buhoma, Nkuringo, Ruhija and Rushaga sector with each having several gorilla families. The Rushaga sector located in the South Eastern part of Bwindi is known to offer a gorilla habituation experience, an adventure that takes 4 hours of interaction with the mountain gorillas.
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park:
The Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is located in the Western part of Uganda and is part of the larger Virunga Massif. It hosts three of the eight Virunga Mountains volcanoes that tower the skies of the park. These volcanoes include Mount Muhabura, Mount Gahinga, and Mount Sabyinyo. These dormant volcanoes are international mountains, with Muhabura and Gahinga on the Uganda-Rwanda border. The towring Sabyinyo Mountain is located on the border of the three countries i.e Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Though Mgahinga is the smallest of all Ugandan national parks, it is one of the best destination for photohraphers. It covers 33.7km2 and it is characterized with both tropical moist broadleaf forests and montane forests. The park offers better gorilla photography opportunities given that you can see four different silverback gorillas on the same trek.
Photography Safaris in Rwanda
Rwanda is a favorite to many tourists visiting Africa. This known home to the mountain gorillas is located in the eastern part of the African Continent near Uganda the Pearl of Africa. The shy Endangered Mountain gorillas in Rwanda are only found in Volcanoes National Park which is the mostly known destination to visit in Rwanda commonly known for the gorillas plus Golden monkeys among other wildlife primates. Therefore, planning for your gorilla photo safaris in Rwanda Volcanoes National Park should be your turning point.
Volcanoes National Park:
The Volcanoes Natonal Park is located in the north western part of Rwanda. It was part of the larger Albert National Park that was created in 1925 to protect the endangered Mountain gorillas which were exposed to hunting at that time. It borders Virunga National Park in Democratic Republic of Congo and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda. It is home to five of the eight volcanoes of the Virunga Mountains (Karisimbi, Bisoke, Muhabura, Gahinga and Sabyinyo), and spans an area of 160 km2..
Covered in bamboo forest, this is one of the best places for photography safaris.
There are twelve gorilla families that have been habituated for gorilla trekking in the wild jungles. Some of the gorilla families include Susa, Kwitonda, Umubano, Amahoro, Sabyinyo, Agasha, Hirwa, Bwenge and Ugenda gorilla family. Each gorilla group is visited by eight tourists and thus the regulated number makes photography easier.
What is required for the better gorilla photo safari?
One of the requirements to visiting the mountain gorillas in the Jungle is possessing a gorilla permit. You must buy a gorilla permit which costs US$600 per person, per trek in Uganda and US$1500 USD per person, per trek in Rwanda. This money is paid in advance to book for your permit. If you are looking at commercial photography, there is an extra of US$150 per person.
You should also arrange your visa well in advance. If you are to visit both Uganda and Rwanda you have to apply for a multiple Visa. You can also purchage the East African Visa which costs $100 USD per person.
A valid yellow fever vaccination Card is essential required to gain entry into Uganda or Rwanda.
What to Bring for your Gorilla photo Safari in Uganda & Rwanda.
Decent quality digital SLR are the best tool for the job in most mountain gorilla safaris. If you are lucky enough to own a full frame SLR then this is the best due to the higher performance in low light situations that you are likely to find yourself in during the gorilla trek within the jungle.
However, that is not to say that a cropped sensor will not do a decent job for you. It is worth noting that on a cropped sensor SLR your zoom lenses will be extended depending on the size of the sensor. A 1.6x sensor for example will multiply the focal length of your lenses by that factor, this can be especially useful for other parts of your safari, and for example, a 200mm lens on a 1.6 x sensor would be equivalent to a 320mm zoom (200 x 1.6 = 320.
When selecting lenses many people elect for long telephoto zooms when travelling on safari. While these are often the best tool for the job when you are in some places like Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, they can be of little use when visiting the mountain gorillas. The reason for this is that, ideally, you should be around 7 meters from the gorillas, which is significantly closer than you are likely to be to a leopard in a tree.
Water proof Bags:
You should come with Water proof bags for your photography Cameras as chances are high that you will encounter moist environment. It is also possible to experience rains while still the Jungle. Waterproof bags are important given that they will protect your camera from water.
Strong Hiking Shoes are needed to hike through the forest. You should also come with long trousers, long sleeved shirts as well as Jacket or jumper to keep you warm during the trek.
Insect repellants should not miss on your parking list given that they will be important in protecting you against stinging nettles that you can encounter during the trip.