Gorilla Tourism – New Hope for Africa’s Gorillas

Virunga Gorilla

There are four subspecies of gorillas living in east and central Africa rain forests. These include the mountain gorilla, the eastern and western lowland gorillas and the cross river gorillas. The gorillas share 95% of their DNA with humans hence have become the prime tourist attractions in Africa drawing a significant number of tourists.

Mountain gorillas being the largest of the living primates on planet earth have caught the attention of most today’s responsible travelers than their counterparts to the Virunga massifs and Bwindi Impenetrable forest of Uganda. As a result many gorilla safaris are becoming popular wildlife safaris in Uganda, Rwanda and DR Congo.

Fewer than 1000 mountain gorillas live today in the wild and the increasing number of tourist visits to see the gentle giants in their natural habitat has helped to bring annual revenues earned from gorilla tourism. This has therefore helped to provide funds used to fund efforts /mechanisms such as protecting the remaining montane tropical forested gorilla national parks from encroachment, reducing poaching for bush meat and illicit trade of gorilla products and other important species of flora and fauna due tight security by wildlife rangers.

It’s only in the past that the mountain gorillas were being poached, killed or kidnapped during civil wars especially in eastern DR Congo though none exists in captivity. This led to the decline in their population across the Virunga region to less than 500 approximately in the last four decades hence it became a critical key issue to draw committed attention of the local, national governments and  international conservationists to come together and form strict gorilla tourism /ecotourism guidelines to avoid any tourist disturbance of mountain gorillas.

One of the most pressing issue against gorilla tourism though, is that these great apes live in habitat ranges surrounded by dense humans populations, poverty and the most recently detrimental events such as the lethal Ebola outbreak, civil wars in north east and southern parts of DRC (Virunga National Park), the 1994 Rwandan genocide and the Bwindi massacre of American tourists in 1999. Such events greatly affected gorilla tourism due to destruction of tourist attraction sites, disruption of the service delivery especially hotels, tour operations leading to decreased gorilla trekking safaris.

The same challenges did inspire historical gorilla conservation efforts by Dian Fossey whose ground breaking research laid foundation for active conservation/ anti poaching activities in Rwanda, DRC and Uganda. The subsequent conservation campaigns such the book and movie “gorillas in the mist” and the documentary Virunga clearly exhibit the relentless joint efforts of rangers, local people, international conservation bodies like International Conservation Gorilla Group, The Gorilla Fund International, African Wildlife Foundation and WWF and many others to save gorillas from threats of extinction.

Hence due to the positive travel media which reflects the successful story of increased gorilla conservation programs, quality gorilla trekking safaris/packages and increased government revenue has attracted more tourism investment opportunities. Seeing a mountain gorilla has become a must do activity one ought to do before dying. Book your permit with a tour operator today and you will have taken part in the gorilla tourism milestone.

Therefore countries of Uganda, Rwanda and DRC must collaborate effectively in political security and keeping peace between gorillas and local communities if Africa is to realize the long term success of gorilla tourism. As a result, financial and technical funding of mechanisms to conserve gorillas has increased as well as 24-7 maximum security of gorilla national parks by armed wildlife rangers who confront poaching or encroachment. In addition gorilla veterinary doctors do a lot of field research work to prevent any human disease outbreak that would easily wipe out gorillas since some have been habituated for tourists.

Therefore to realize the long term success of gorilla tourism, initiatives have been established to help support the economic development of the local communities who are first beneficiaries of revenues earned from gorilla tourism. For example it’s estimated that about 15 million USD are accumulated each year and this great deal of money is used in several community development projects such as alternative resources and sources of income for local people, conservation education of tourists and locals, building hospitals, uplifting groups of women, children and food security through sustainable farming.

As a result, communities have benefited from improved income and standards of living leading to change of mindset towards gorilla conservation. An evident achievement is the reduced poaching and encroachment by many local people who are now the main stakeholders of gorilla conservation advocating for their survival. For example the baby gorilla naming ceremony (Kwita Izina) held yearly in Rwanda involves participation of by over 20,000 local people.

This has therefore attracted small and large tourism ventures, such as eco lodges, campsites, food and beverage enterprises owned by the very local communities  diversification of tourism products

Tourism including gorilla tourism which is supposed to be highly nature friendly in all its operations and practices remains a very fragile market segment of the industry undertaken by responsible tourists. Hence it’s another critical factor to see all tourism stakeholders from the hotel, tour operators and tourists to locals to become more sustainable in their practices while giving tourists a satisfactory experience.

Other tourism attractions within and around gorilla national parks has been developed to attract more tourists. Attractions such as snow capped Mt. Rwenzori, beautiful crater lakes, active and dormant volcanic mountains, birds, mammals such as big five animals, primates like golden monkeys, chimpanzees and the hospitable fascinating cultural heritage like the Batwa trails in Uganda and Rwanda. Combined gorilla treks across both gorilla national parks will enable tourists to have a wide experience since the landscapes and cultural attractions are unique.

Tourists associate with gorillas for limited hours per single day which may unfortunately get more limited in the near future due to the risk associated with habituating of many gorilla families across the four national park and the apparent increased gorilla trekking safaris in Rwanda and Uganda than in DRC.

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