These differ greatly according to the location of the gorillas, so the exact level of difficulty for a specific trek is impossible to define in advance. On an excursion, it is entirely possible that you will find the gorillas quite quickly and be back at your hotel for lunch. It is also entirely possible that you will have to hike three or four hours (or sometimes even longer) each way and will make it back to your hotel just before dark. Because it is impossible to predict the length and difficulty of any single tracking excursion, this program should not be attempted by anyone who is not in reasonable physical condition.
Tracking is likely to involve scrambling through, over, and under dense undergrowth with nettles, barbed vines, and bamboo thickets. Correct footwear and clothing are essential. It is recommended that you build up the strength and endurance of your leg muscles by walking, stair climbing, bicycling, knee bends, and similar exercises before you leave home. This should always be done under the supervision of your doctor.
Please Note: Travellers with physical disabilities and those who require frequent or ongoing medical attention should advise Natural World Safaris of their health situation at the time of booking (or at the time such a situation occurs should this be after the reservation is made).
Each traveller can opt to take his or her own porter for the duration of a tracking excursion.
Taking a porter is highly recommended and a fee of $10 per person is the standard fee.
Please note that your porter can only carry one (1) bag, and any additional items you want to bring must be carried by you. Because of the potential difficulty of any trek, it is strongly suggested that you take only one (1) bag (to be carried by your porter).
As you set off from the starting point, the trackers will first lead you to the spot where the gorilla family was seen the previous day and look for clues as to the direction the group may have travelled since it was last observed. Your group's lead tracker will have his "own" gorilla family, which he visits each day and whose home range and travel routes are familiar to him.
All trackers are experienced in looking for signs of the gorillas, such as footprints, dung, chewed bamboo and celery stalks, and abandoned nests from the previous evening. Gorillas soil their nests and then abandon them to build new ones each night, and trackers are able to tell the age of the nests as well as which group made them. On days of heavy rain, it is more difficult to distinguish signs of the gorillas and the age of nests.
Gorillas do not live in the most easily accessible terrain, and some of it is virtually impenetrable. They prefer secondary growth vegetation with plenty of food plants near the ground and think nothing of climbing extremely steep slopes to get it. Unfortunately, this means that tracking gorillas can be difficult for humans. If the gorillas you are tracking have wandered deep into the forest, it is entirely possible that the trek to find them will take three or four hours (or sometimes even longer) in each direction. Additionally, you may have to overcome mud, stinging nettles, and some areas of elevated vines where your feet may not touch the ground. The trek can be difficult in both directions (out to the gorillas and back to the starting point).
Trackers generally do allow time to stop and rest along the trail. However, they tend to hike at a steady, somewhat upbeat pace throughout the excursion, for they must be mindful of the time to ensure that you will be able to reach the gorillas, spend a full hour with them, and make it back down the trail before dark. If you occasionally lag behind the group to take photos or are having difficulty negotiating a steep or slippery portion of the trail, your porter will stay with you to assist; but the group will most likely continue forward.
You will probably smell the gorillas before you actually see them. When you reach them, the tracker will move forward, making soft smacking and groaning sounds with his mouth to assure the group that friends are approaching. Although gorillas make very few vocalizations, this sound of reassurance is one that family members often use with each other.
If your trek to find the gorillas has not been unusually long, you are likely to visit them during their long midday rest and play period. At this time of day, the dominant male (usually a silverback) generally lounges on the ground or against a tree while youngsters roll in the vegetation and climb on trees, vines, and each other. Females nurse and play with their infants. Occasionally, a curious youngster may try to approach you or someone in your group. Though it is tempting to touch, this is STRICTLY forbidden. Your tracking group will be instructed to stay together, a minimum of 7 metres away, and crouch down while observing the gorillas so that the dominant male can see you at all times and the family does not feel threatened, surrounded, or overwhelmed. Never stare directly into the eyes of a gorilla, for a fixed stare is as aggressive to them as it is to most humans. Although you may find a gorilla looking directly at you, you should maintain a subservient stance and look at it sideways or from a lower height.
Sometimes, as a release of tension or as a display to the rest of the group, a male gorilla may charge and beat his chest, tearing up vegetation and hurling his tremendous frame directly at your tracking group. Despite the temptation to run, you must stand your ground, maintain a subordinate, crouching position, and do your best not to flinch – for the gorilla will stop before actually reaching you and calmly return to his previous location, glancing back at you with smug satisfaction. Such displays may turn savage when used between males of different gorilla families but are simply a bluff when used with human observers on tracking excursions to habituated gorilla groups.
Your tracking group will spend up to one (1) hour with the gorillas on each tracking excursion. This time limit is carefully observed and protects the gorillas from undue stress. If your group were to stay longer than this, the gorillas would probably end the visit themselves -- by simply leaving. Although they are getting used to being visited regularly and are curious about their human visitors, they are accustomed to one-hour visits; and their intensely shy and private nature will reassert itself in the end.
In the event a gorilla tracking participant is unable to complete a tracking excursion to the gorillas, he or she will either be allowed to immediately return to the base of the trail with a porter OR the participant will be asked to remain in place with a porter while the group continues its track of the gorillas, rejoining the rest of the group on its way back to the base of the trail.
At the start of the tracking day, there is no way of telling exactly where the habituated gorilla families are (even though trackers are very skilled at looking for signs of gorillas and their paths of travel).