Hidden high among the forested volcanoes in Volcanoes National Park, the mountain gorilla was unknown to science until 1902, when two were first encountered by a German explorer and promptly killed.
For much of the time since, due to deforestation and poaching, it has seemed that the mountain gorilla was swiftly destined to be lost to the world again. Not long after the species’ greatest champion, the American zoologist Dian Fossey was killed in Rwanda in 1985-there were fewer than 300 of the giant primates left in the wild.
The cost of a permit for foreign visitors has increased to $750 from $250 a decade ago. In 2016, Volcanoes National Park generated an impressive $16.4 million USD from park entry fees. 10 per cent of earnings from gorilla tourism in Rwanda are funnelled back into the local community. Visitor numbers have grown 82 percent since 2007, proving that there is also an increasing demand to see the primates in their natural habitat.
The trekkers gather at 7 a.m. at the park headquarters to be grouped according to the difficulty of the hikes. Groups of up to eight are allowed to spend one tightly monitored hour with one of the 10 families. There are no trails through the forest and it can take up to three hours to reach the gorillas. The park’s trackers, armed with radios and just-in-case rifles, maintain a daylong vigil on you and the gorilla families.