Gorillas are some of the world’s most fascinating animals — their genetic and behavioral similarities to humans have captivated researchers and laymen alike. Africa is home to numerous species, but they are concentrated in relatively small areas. The best places to see gorillas in Africa include the central rainforests and western lowlands of Rwanda, Uganda, and parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo, plus a couple of other central and west African countries.
This article originally appeared on AFKInsider.com.
Bwindi Impenetrable Forest (Uganda)
For mountain gorillas, the ancient forest of Bwindi in Uganda almost always tops the list. It’s referred to as impenetrable due to the incredibly dense canopy that blocks light in many areas, but the forest is actually very accessible to visitors. It is the only place in East or Central Africa where you get the bonus of seeing mountain gorillas cohabiting in the same environments, as well as hundreds of other species of animals and plants.
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park (Uganda)
As the smallest national park in Uganda, Mgahinga makes up for its size with breathtaking beauty and incredible biodiversity. Set against a backdrop of three of the six Virunga volcanoes, Mgahinga houses a portion of the Virunga mountain gorilla habitat, playing host to 380 gorillas that roam there. The park has excellent terrain for hiking, so even if you don’t manage to spot a gorilla, you’ll still be able to explore the park everything else the park has to offer.
Parc Nationale des Volcans (Rwanda)
Another one of the Virunga parks, this one stretches up the entire northwest corner of Rwanda, abutting the borders of the DRC and Uganda. The Parc Nationale des Volcans (or Volcanoes National Park) is the habitat of mountain gorillas that wander the slopes of the volcanoes. If you go there, you’ll also have the added bonus of seeing breathtaking solidified lava flow, bamboo and evergreen forests, and incredible biodiversity.
Parc Nationale des Virunga (Democratic Republic of the Congo)
Another Virunga park that plays host to the region’s mountain gorillas is the Parc Nationale des Virunga (Virungas National Park), located in the eastern reaches of the Democratic Republic of Congo. It’s said that it’s a bit easier to get permits to enter the DRC park than the others Virunga parks, as it is lesser known — which also means the land is nearly untouched and well-preserved. This park also provides amazing views of the volcanoes.
Cross River National Park (Nigeria)
To see some of the other majestic species of gorilla in Africa, look no further than Nigeria’s Cross River National Park. Home to one of the largest western gorilla populations on the continent (not to mention thousands of chimpanzees and other primates), the park’s mix of tropical rainforest and savanna is perfect for the gorillas to roam. The population is threatened by hunters and loggers who systematically destroy gorilla habitats, but the Nigerian government has been making a big effort to combat this, and increase ecotourism.
Campo Ma’an National Park (Cameroon)
Campo Ma’an National Park is a biodiversity hotspot, with hundreds of animal and plant species. Its proximity to another reserve, the Rio Campo Equatorial Guinea, allows for increased mobility for its western lowland gorilla population, which lets them flourish and better withstand threats. Ecotourism is in its early stages in Campo Ma’an park, and it is hoped that as it grows, so too will the gorilla populations.
Lopé National Park (Gabon)
Lopé National Park in Gabon is unique in its terrain, as it represents one of the last remaining grass savannahs created by the most recent Ice Age. A UNESCO World Heritage site, it enjoys better protection than many other national parks, for which its western lowland gorilla population has benefited immensely.
Dzanga-Ndoki National Park (Central African Republic)
The northern section of Dzanga-Ndoki National Park is famous for its high density of western lowland gorillas – estimated to number 1.6 individuals per kilometer. A dense forest environment is home to the Bai-Hokou group created by the World Wildlife Federation years ago, and they have a high probability of being spotted by visitors on any given day.
Nouabale-Ndoki National Park (Republic of the Congo)
Western lowland gorillas live in the tropical rainforests of the Republic of Congo’s Nouabale-Ndoki National Park, mainly in the Mbeli Bai section. Special infrastructure has been developed to make it easier for visitors to spot them without disturbing their natural habitat, and the result has been a boom in ecotourism. Sightings are frequent.
Maiombe Forest, Angola
The Maiombe Forest is the only place to spot western lowland gorillas in Angola. The Cabinda exclave (at the northern end of Angola near the River Congo) is less developed than other parks. While the trek to get there might be more difficult, this means the land is that much more splendid and breathtaking in its untouched beauty. Preservation efforts have been underway for years in conjunction with the surrounding countries, and it is hoped the gorilla population will thrive in the coming years.
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This article was originally published on April 16, 2015.