Having a gorilla permits is as important as having a ticket for a movie or football game but losing a ticket for a movie is not as disappointing as losing a gorilla permit. Imagine losing a permit that would have enabled you to venture into the dense jungles to meet face to face with mankind’s closest relatives. Most of movies we watch are just fiction but staring into the eyes of animals that appeared in the “gorilla in the Mist” or Kingkong movie is like a fairy tale come true.
For you to go on a gorilla safari in Uganda or Rwanda, you must possess a valid gorilla trekking permit. There are 10 gorilla groups in Volcanoes national park hence 80 gorilla permits are sold per day and 12 gorilla groups in Uganda (11 in Bwindi National park hence 88 gorilla permits are sold and one group in Mgahinga National Park meaning only 8 gorilla permits are sold per day) based on the maximum of 8 persons who visit a gorilla group per day.
Some of the captivating gorilla groups you are likely to be assigned to in Volcanoes National park include Agashya/group 13, Kwitonda, Umubano, Ugenda, Bwenge, Susa A, Sabinyo, Karisimbi/Susa B, Hirwa and Bwenge groups. Each of these gorilla groups is unique and you will be surprised by the level of Intelligence portrayed by these Creatures. It is totally astonishing.
For gorilla groups in Bwindi Impenetrable National park, they are distributed within four sectors/regions that include Buhooma sector where you will find Mubare, Habinyanja and Rushegura gorilla groups, Rushaga sector (Southern part of the park) where you encounter the majority of gorilla groups in Bwindi such as Nshongi, Kahungye, Busingye, Bweza and Mishaya groups, Ruhija sector the home to Bitukura and Oruzogo groups and Nkuringo sector where you will encounter the Nkuringo gorilla group.
After knowing all these gorilla groups, the question most tourists ask is “how are gorilla permits allocated to tourists in both Uganda and Rwanda. In the past, gorilla permits for particular gorilla groups in Uganda were allocated based on the “first come first serve” basis where first tourists who determine what group they wished to track in. Tourists that came later would choose from the groups that are left out. This changed from 2014 where the sector is allocated on the gorilla permits instead of gorilla groups. The gorilla group is determined on the day of tacking at the briefing point. This new system is good because tourists can determine what groups to track based on their age, level of physical fitness and personal interests.
The same applies to Rwanda where gorilla groups to track are allocated at the briefing point, and tourists are allocated to the gorilla group based on the age, level of fitness and individual preference. For example a person of above 60 years cannot be allocated to Susa A group (considered the hardest to track), but based on evaluation will be allocated to the Sabinyo group (considered the easiest to track). However, the disappointment comes when the group you thought was easy to track turns out to be difficult. This doesn’t mean that you were misguided or was given wrong information, but the reason is because these are wild animals that are not stationed in one position but keep moving from one place to another. Certain factor like abundance of food (where mountain gorillas tend to move to far place in the dry seasons when food is scarce) and previous conflicts with wild unhabituated gorillas or other gorilla families affect their movement. It is for this reason that most intending gorilla trekkers are advised to get prepared for whatever tracking condition and have to be physically fit.
There are also situations when gorilla trekkers wish to be allocated to the same gorillas groups as their friends or family members. This is allowed so long as there is still space in the group they wish to track or when some of the tourists allocated to that particular group are willing to switch/interchange.
In conclusion, gorilla permits for Uganda and Rwanda are allocated depending on the age, physical fitness and personal preference of the tourists because there are certain gorilla groups that are difficult to track while others are easier to track. However, to avoid disappointment when you encounter the opposite of what you expected, get prepared for every situation.