Trekking for Western Lowland Gorillas in Loango National Park is an unforgettable rain forest adventure for two main reasons; you will never forget that moment when you get your first glimpse of a wild gorilla & then gently delve into the private & humble daily lives of our habituated group. Traversing the various habitats that the gorillas reside in will give you the adventure of a lifetime that even the most experienced traveler probably hasn't encountered. Think hiking through rain forests, wading through swamps or lakes, and climbing over mangroves in your quest to reach the gorillas.
Where are the Gorillas?
An hour boat ride from Loango Lodge is the gorilla research camp & tourism centre. The gorillas have a 20km home range in this area.
After a welcome talk and health & safety briefing your guide will contact the team in the forest to find the gorillas' exact location. You will then commence your trekking adventure.
What do I Wear for Gorilla Trekking?
This can often be overthought and then turn unnecessarily costly. There really is no need to buy special clothes for this because...you will get wet, sweaty, muddy & dirty. Old clothes you may be have around the house are my recommendation. Please avoid bright colours and dark colours. Bright might scare wildlife, dark attracts annoying flying insects.
Typically the gorilla team wear loose shorts and t-shirts. Trousers are fine if you can either roll them up or you do not mind walking in wet trousers. Loose, light shirts could replace t-shirts if you prefer to keep a bit more covered but, do not be disillusioned into thinking this will prevent mosquito or tsetsi flies biting you. Mosquito repellent is the only way to combat this & there are some really good products on the market that are not to strong or corrosive on materials i.e. Tabard, Peaceful Sleep, and Citronella products.
Footwear...crocs or sport sandals such as keanes are perfect because these are more comfortable when wet, which is inevitable! Do not despair if you do not have these, old trainers or low hiking shoes will do if you don't mind one day of muddy wet feet. Avoid high hiking or rubber boots because these are not comfortable once wet.
Add to your packing list a raincoat or poncho, waterproof bag for your belongings, and some binoculars if you have them.
How Close Will I Get to the Gorillas?
Anywhere from 7 to 30 metres away is the norm for gorilla visits. This is really dependent on the gorillas location & surroundings.
If the gorillas are on the ground and the area is not too dense then your guide can take you as close as 7 metres. Western Lowland Gorillas do climb so, sometimes they are high in trees.
It is necessary to wear a face mask (surgical style) when 10 metres or less from the gorillas in order to prevent any airborne disease transmission. Yes...the gorillas are very susceptible to anything we carry, and a simple cold could be fatal to a wild gorilla that has no immunity (or antibiotics) to viruses such as chest infections. Your guide will provide you with face masks at the appropriate moment.
Occasionally the gorillas approach people closer than 7 metres (these guys do not follow the rules!), when this happens your guide will instruct you on how to behave and what to do.
It is for sure that you will want document you magical moments with the gorillas. Here are some hints for photography in the rainforest - not an easy task!:
Low Aperture - Due to closed canopy the forest can be extremely dark. This coupled with your subject also being dark can be a bit a of photographers' nightmare! Cameras which allow low aperture are best because they draw in more light. An alternative way to combat this is to shoot with a very low shutter speed but...be warned... this is very difficult without a tripod. Tripods are not recommended, partly due to the awkwardness of carrying them and also because within the time it takes to set up a shot the gorillas move. Or your focal gorilla moves slightly mid capture. Add to this foliage moving in front of the shot and your time with the gorillas is tainted by frustrations of trying to get perfect pictures with unsuitable equipment. In my opinion, low aperture cameras make a huge difference to your experience. Note; flash is not allowed in the forest.
Who Makes the Rules?
The gorilla visit rules are based on those established by an international group of experts, the IUCN/SSC Primate Specialist group (Macfie, EJ & Williamson, EA. 2010. Best Practice Guidelines for Great Ape Tourism). Those interested in furthering their knowledge can use link to access the aforementioned paper: https://portals.iucn.org/library/sites/library/files/documents/SSC-OP-038.pdf
Now you are equipped with the knowledge of gorilla trekking experts I hope you are ready to pack & mentally prepare for a once in a lifetime adventure that your friends & family will all be jealous of.
Silverback Kamaya is waiting to meet you!