The outbreak of the novel corona virus has greatly affected tourism all over the world. This global threat has also greatly affected gorilla tourism, a tool used by Uganda, Rwanda and DR Congo to protect the rare mountain gorillas. With tourist visits cancelled and several trips postponed, the conservation of mountain gorillas is at stake and it will take some time for the countries to recover the earnings badly needed in protecting the great apes.
With the two most popular locations now reopened for gorilla tourism i.e. Bwindi Impenetrable National Park of Uganda and the Volcanoes National Park of Rwanda, several measures have been put in place to safeguard the mountain gorillas, rare species known to catch human diseases.
Keeping Social Distance
Keeping social distancing with mountain gorillas on a gorilla trek is essential especially now that the world is still battling with COVID-19 pandemic. It is one of the important aspects team from respective gorilla trekking parks in Uganda or Rwanda emphasize during on briefing on gorilla tracking rules and regulations or even while on a trek to view mountain gorillas.
Observing social distancing is one of the significant Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) that has been put in place by the Uganda Wildlife Authority and this was after re-opening of primate parks and other safari parks to international tourists. Uganda re-opened Entebbe International Airport and land borders to international visitors earlier in October after a long time of lockdown a move that was intended to prevent spread of COVID-19.
Keeping social distancing isn’t only essential to mountain gorillas but also other primates like chimpanzees whose genetic DNA is about 98% similar to that of humans. A social distance of between 7 and 10 meters should be observed while on gorilla trek in Uganda, Rwanda or DR Congo. Between humans, a physical distance of about 2 and 4 meters should be kept. Observing this physical distance is all aimed at reducing the spread of COVID-19 and this is not only for humans but also for gorillas, chimpanzees and other wildlife species whose lives are at a risk of contracting this pandemic.
Visitors Must Have Negative PCR Test
Visitors on plan to travel to Uganda are all required to present a negative COVID-19 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test result. According to a press release from the Rwanda Development Board, before visitors are allowed to go on a gorilla trek in the Volcanoes National Park, they must carry a negative Covid-19 PCR test.
For the case of Uganda, a certificate obtained within at most 72 hours since the time of check up before entering Uganda. In addition to this, physical distancing should always be observed. Upon landing into Entebbe International Airport, all visitors must have undergone COVID-19 screening and should present negative COVID-19 certificate.
Put on Your Facemask
One of the SOPs you should observe include wearing a facemask not only at the airport but also in a national park or any protected area.
For long, tourists going on gorilla treks in the Virunga National Park of Congo have been wearing facemasks. The conservationists in Uganda and Rwanda have also adopted this new norm with the aim of reducing the chances of spreading the novel virus to the mountain gorillas.
It is advisable to wear a face mask at all times when you meet the mountain gorillas. Preferably, you may need at least two of N95 surgical/double layer masks with filters.
Temperature screening is mandatory not only upon arrival at Entebbe international airport and Kigali international airport but also at the entrance of Uganda safari parks or Rwanda safari parks.
Upon temperature screening, visitors with temperature symptoms of COVID-19 will be taken to the isolation centre.
Update your Packing List
The Covid-19 pandemic has changed the packing list for the gorilla trek. Here are some of the things that should not miss in your pack;
- Sanitizers for hand washing
- Long sleeved shirt or blouse
- A rain coat to protect you from rain that occasionally falls during the hike
- Hiking Boats that can cover the ankles
- Garden Gloves
- Long pants that are strong enough to withstands likely stretches in the forest.
- Insect Repellants to protect you from stinging nettles
- Pack at least Two N95 Face masks to wear during the hike
- A backpack for keep your sanitizer and face masks
Other useful tips that are worthy knowing;
So in order to enjoy your gorilla trekking expeditions, you must follow the old etiquette which includes the followung ;
Be reasonably fit
A gorilla trek doesn’t come simply. This adventure involves hiking through the tropical rainforest on foot. The time spent on the hike ranges from a mere walk of about 2 hours to a full day hike. Therefore, a considerable degree of fitness is needed for you to undertake a physically challenging hike within the forest. If you are not strong enough, it is important to notify your gorilla trek planner to secure you a gorilla trekking location that is not so tough to conquer.
Be Well Equipped
It is important to take the right equipment that you may need during the trek. You should remember to carry enough water – about 2-3 litres. Do not forget a waterproof bag to protect your camera, phones and other items that can get wet.
To protect yourself from bites, it is important to come with insect repellent. You may also need sunscreen and a hat to protect you on a hot day. Consider a backpack fit for all these items as well as your sanitizer and facemasks.
Keep Yourself Covered
Hikers are advised to wear long trousers instead of shorts. These will help you from not only getting wet from the dew during the walk but also protect you from the biting insects. Garden gloves are recommended to protect you catching thorny plants.
Join an organised trip
You can save more if you book your trek through a local safari company. It saves you from overhead costs (that you can incur through an international travel agent).
Using a local agent also makes the booking process easier and your gorilla permit and accommodation will be booked in the right sector.
Choose your timing
Try to avoid trekking in the rainy season (March to April and October to November) when the going gets tougher. However, these months are also recommended for this tough experience that other people tend to prefer so that they can experience something outside the ordinary.
Note, fewer than 1063 mountain gorillas still exist in the world and they live only in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Southwestern Uganda; Volcanoes National Park in Ruhengeri region Rwanda and the Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
It is also important to note that every gorilla trekking safari is a step further to preserving the endangered mountain gorillas in their natural habitat through gorilla trekking permit contribution.