Anyone traveling to a destination he or she is not conversant with would be concerned about the safety and security within the destination. The first question asked by intending gorilla trekkers is “is Rwanda really safe for a gorilla trekking safari? The answer is definitely yes. Mountain Gorillas are exceptional creatures (with only 880 individuals left in the wild) and are found in only three countries-Uganda, Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo. Volcanoes National Park, the only place where Mountain gorillas can be tracked within Rwanda is a home to over 10 habituated Mountain gorilla families that tourists can visit.
Much as tourists yearn to see the gorillas, they are also scared/worried of guerillas. One thing you need to understand is that your safety and security within Rwanda is everyone’s (Government of Rwanda and Tour operators) center of attention. Just like we all sometimes have dark and painful past, Rwanda also has a painful past due to the 1994 Rwanda Genocide with wounds and heartaches still healing. Nevertheless, the good news is that the Land of a thousand hills is now very safe and secure for Gorilla trekking. This means that this adventure and meeting face to face with the gorillas in the mist is not a threat to tourists.
Not only that, gorilla trekking in Volcanoes National Park is done in the company of well trained and experienced ranger guides along with military escorts, and no visitor is allowed to venture into the Jungles of Volcanoes National Park alone but has to be escorted by an armed ranger guide. Putting the security within Volcanoes National Park apart, you would be asking yourself whether the activity (gorilla trekking) itself is safe. The answer is also yes. This is mainly because Mountain gorillas have to first undergo 2-3 years habituation to make them used to the presence of humans before they can be tracked by tourists. The Mountain gorillas are not dangerous and aggressive as portrayed but rather comfortable and relaxed when visited in the Jungle, yet the portrayal of the uber Giant Ape “King Kong” fighting off planes on the top of the Empire State Building contributes to the human understanding that Gorillas are menacing animals which is not true.
However, it should not be ignored that these Mountain gorillas are wild animals that can get irritated when provoked regardless of how friendly and gentle they are. These human-like mammals are very gentle and only become aggressive if exasperated. It is for this reason that tourists are first briefed/oriented prior to tracking and several tracking guidelines exist to ensure safety of both tourists and the mountain gorillas. It is just your duty to follow instructions given by the Ranger guides and your trip will be memorable. Providing tourists with the guidelines also helps to reduce anxiety and fear, and prepare to meet face to face with the Mountain gorillas fearlessly.
The following are the tracking guidelines that exist to ensure safety of tourists during gorilla trekking in Rwanda. Avoid direct eye contact with the Mountain gorillas to avoid provoking them, do not make noise when tracking or when with the Mountain gorillas because it scares them, avoid using flash cameras because the flash can startle them, do not touch the mountain gorillas, avoid sudden and unnecessary movements when with the Mountain gorillas because they can interpret is as provocation. Also, when the Mountain gorillas charge by beating their chest, stand still and not run away but simply avoid eye contact until it cools down. When you avoid eye contact, the Mountain gorillas will interpret it as submission, tourists are allowed to spend only one hour with the Mountain gorillas and maintain a distance of 7 meters away from the Mountain Gorillas. There are stringent guidelines that must be followed by all gorilla trekkers in Rwanda, with no exceptions/special cases.
In conclusion, Rwanda is safe for Mountain gorilla tracking because gorilla trekkers are accompanied by knowledgeable and qualified ranger guides who move with armed rangers to ensure safety of tourists within the jungles of Volcanoes National Park. Not only that, tourists are also safe in the presence of the mountain gorillas who undergo 2-3 years habituation to make them used to human presence, but tourists also have a duty to follow tracking guidelines such as keeping silent during tracking or when with the Mountain gorillas, avoiding flash cameras, maintaining distance of 7 meters and avoiding direct eye contact. These guidelines are put to ensure your safety in the presence of these gentle Giant Apes that can become aggressive if provoked hence achieving a memorable tracking experience.