Several international researchers are as well as other team members are living permanently in the camp of Bai Hokou who are responsible for locating and following the gorillas each day. Early in the morning, at sunrise, a team leaves the camp with information on the location where the gorillas slept the previous night. As soon as the nest site is found, the team then follows the traces the gorillas have left while moving and feeding. This task could not be achieved without the help of pygmy trackers whose senses are perfectly in tune with the forest. The tracking experience alone, searching for the gorillas by following their almost imperceptible signs on the forest floor, leaves you with an unforgettable memory. To do this, one takes elephant paths and narrow trails, sometimes crossing copses. The pursuit can be strenuous as gorillas can sometimes cover significant distances before finding a fruit tree of choice. Sometimes one or two hours pass before establishing contact with the gorillas. At noon the tracking team is replaced. Its position is communicated to the camp by radio so the relief team can leave in the right direction. Encountering the gorillas cannot be guaranteed, but in 2003 and 2004 nearly 90% of the tourists taking part in this activity have seen gorillas in close proximity.
Currently (mid 2008) 6 tourists per day can partake in gorilla tracking (3 in the morning and 3 in the afternoon). All participants have to take responsibility for any risk themselves. The Park administration has fixed a minimum age of 16. Visitors are informed of the rules of conduct at the camp. No one with diarrhoea, a cold or other transmittable diseases is allowed to participate, this is so as not to endanger the gorillas’ health. The role of the dominant male gorilla, the silverback, is to defend his family, preventing the group from overly dispersing and other males from leaving with resident females. This role partly explains the mock charges against the pursuing humans. If this occurs, one must wait in a knelt position with the head declined. Charges can be up to only a few meters away. Most of the time, researchers and tourists are within 15 or 20 meters of the animals.
The camp is an hour’s car-drive from Bayanga (35 km). One can sign-up for gorilla tracking in Bayanga, which is in radio contact with the Bai Hokou camp. All forest activities are accompanied by trained guides who speak French and some also English.
For more information on Western Lowland Gorillas and about the Primate Habituation Programme (PHP) at Bai Hokou please visit the PHP Section.