There are approximately 1004 mountain gorillas in the world. The few numbers means that gorillas are very rare and critically endangered species. They are found only in four national parks in Uganda, Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo. Due to human threats such as encroachment on the limited habitats, diseases, poaching and civil conflicts, conservation and gorilla tourism is a priority in the quest to save gorillas for the future generations.
Thanks to ecotourism, the gorilla numbers are increasing since 1980, from 300 to 880 in 2017 and to over 1000 gorillas in 2018. This is largely attributed to ecotourism which has helped to balance conservation, human needs and tourism development.
Gorillas draw many tourists to Uganda, Rwanda and DR Congo and again. Gorilla trekking is one of the exciting wildlife adventures offering visitors a chance to see endangered gorillas in their natural habitat. The national parks include Uganda’s Bwindi impenetrable National Park home to half population of gorillas and Virunga conservation area which includes Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda and Virunga National Park in DR Congo.
But of course some gorilla parks rank higher than the others. Uganda tends to receive many visitors visiting Bwindi than Rwanda for gorilla trekking due to the different cost of gorilla permit. Searching for gorillas is based on hiking through lush tropical rain forests which can rather damage the ecosystems or disturb the natural behavior of gorillas.
But thanks to gorilla tourism, there are gorilla trekking rules and regulations to ensure that visitors hiking don’t disturb the gorillas and have less impact on their natural habitat. For example, briefing on gorilla rules is always conduct at the start of the gorilla trek to make sure everyone understands how to see gorillas without disrupting their feeding habits.
Only 8 tourists are allowed to visit 1 habituated gorilla family for 1 hour per day. A distance of 7 meters must be kept when seeing gorillas and the flash light must be off while taking photographs. Those few tourists are accompanied by trackers and rangers giving information for excellent viewing of gorillas. Furthermore, the rules also restrict visitors not to drink or eat while with the gorillas. Visitors usually are given packed lunch and drinking water but all litter should be brought back to the visitor center for proper disposal.
Education on the gorillas and natural environment is done to educate both visitors and local people to realize that success of tourism business depends on the gorillas and their habitat. For instance community conservation workshops, seminars are conducted every month in communities and school children are taken on tours to visit the forest such as Bwindi and learn about the importance to protect them.
Gorilla tourism has acted as a facilitator of nature and biodiversity conservation in and around the gorilla parks. With the economic benefits generated from gorilla trekking safaris, gorilla tourism is safeguarding land against alternative uses such as agriculture, deforestation, and urbanization. As a result, gorilla parks such as Bwindi, volcanoes national park, Virunga are designated as protected areas containing birds, butterflies, monkeys and other local attractions. These destinations are therefore able to offer many activities and attractions such as nature walks, birding, biking, and hiking.
Gorilla trekking is driving sustainable development for well being of the communities adjacent to the gorilla parks. Tourism Authorities such as Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA). Rwanda Development Board (RDB) invest revenues derived from the gorilla trekking into projects such as, building health centers, schools, clean water, tree planting and sustainable farming. People greatly rely on natural resources but they are now being benefited by ecotourism. When locals understand benefits of gorilla trekking, they are motivated and involved in conservation.
Furthermore, the revenues help to fund management and protection of the gorilla parks. For instance, many people are employed in gorilla tourism ventures including rangers who monitor gorillas; guard the boundaries of the park to ensure there’s no encroachment. In other words, gorillas are paying for their own survival.
Development of various lodges in and around gorilla parks provides accommodation for visitor. When the accommodations are being established, environmental assessment is done for them to adopt sustainable practices such as organic farming, use of solar energy, proper waste management and sanitation there by impacting less on the gorilla habitats.
Gorilla tourism benefits various tourism ventures such as community tourism guides, cultural trails, craft markets, those growing fruits and vegetables, porters. Locals are able to earn income courtesy of ecotourism. So when tourists trek gorillas, they visit communities and eventually there’s market for crafts and other products such as cultural trails. If it wasn’t for gorilla tourism, people would still depend on natural resources like in the past there was a lot of human gorilla conflicts which are no longer an issue.