Perhaps ironically, one of the best ways of protecting the survival of this rare species is through gorilla trekking tourism. Visitors bring income to rural communities which were traditionally at odds with the gorilla. This is in part because the Mountain Gorilla favours forest that is fertile and rich in biodiversity; habitats also favoured by mankind. In the past, gorilla populations have been decimated by their human neighbours and they also faced the challenges of diseases such as flu and pneumonia.
Yet in recent years, the tide has turned and conservation has been driven by tourism. Partnerships with private operators and communities have seen the development of tourism lodges which benefit both the gorillas and the indigenous communities.
A few days of gorilla trekking can be included in an East African safari itinerary and is highly recommended. It is also worth considering extending a trip to Rwanda to include the famous Ngorongoro Crater with the wildebeest migration on the plains of the Serengeti. There is a scheduled charter service out of the Serengeti to Kigali and from there two hours by road to the award winning community-run Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge.
But before committing to anything, consider Uganda. After many years of safaris I thought I had seen everything until I touched upon this land of immense beauty. The drive leaving Kampala epitomises everything: the verdant tropical vegetation, the colourful clothing of the villagers bearing fruit to market, the immaculate school children, the flashes of exotic birdlife and primates lounging in the canopies.
The best way to see the country is over 10-12 days with a private guide and a 4×4 safari vehicle, driving between the different wildlife areas of this gem of a safari destination. The guide is paramount and we use the very best Ugandan guides and also Private Guide Paul Oliver leads specialist safaris to Uganda.
As the journey progresses, so the beauty and experience grows; from the spectacular Murchison Falls, trekking the chimpanzees of Kibale Forest, searching marshlands for Shoebill, visiting a Batwa (pygmy) village, to the Queen Elizabeth National Park for great game viewing and some of the best birding in Africa. The trip culminates in the life-changing experience of meeting the mountain gorillas in the misty heights of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest.