The history of gorilla tourism in Uganda began in 1991, when the government gazetted Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park under the management of Uganda Wildlife Authority. Uganda encountered a terrific delay in the sector’s development as during the 7th tourism was restricted and protected areas considered poaching places by president Idi Amin and no conservation was even promoted. In the eightieth, Uganda again experienced a civil war up to 1986 when the last National Resistance Army over took power in Kampala. After a few years of restoration of rule of law and the reconstructions of the public institutions of the country, Uganda in the earlier 19th was ready to bridge the gap with rest of the nations where these critically endangered apes are protected.
Firstly, Uganda began by habituating the Mubare gorilla group where the silverback gorilla Ruhondeza was identified to possess good manners especially when it comes for encountering with human presence in the wild and hence supporting gorilla trekking safaris in Uganda. Mubare group was therefore opened for tourism purposes in 1993.
In 2004, four gorilla groups were already set for tourism in Uganda including Mubare, Habinyanja, Nkuringo, and Rushegura. At this time, the permits were sold at $360. In 2012, Bwindi Conservation Area had 9 (nine) habituated gorilla groups with the two new tracking areas in Ruhija in the central part and Rushaga in the South-eastern part of the park. By this period, trekking safaris for mountain gorillas in Uganda were conducted at $500 per visitor.
Gorilla Tourism Today
The long term growth of gorilla tourism since its inception in early 1970’s is attributed to conservation efforts of rangers and support of the local communities living around gorilla protected areas who have for long been the custodians.
The growth is largely reflected in the increase in tourists visiting gorilla national parks for gorilla trekking while on a safari. There are 1000 mountain gorillas in the wild. Half of their numbers about 400 live in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park in Uganda while the rest are scattered in the Virunga Conservation Area including Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda and Virunga National Park in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. The only habitats left on earth for mountain gorillas.
To ensure these people benefit from gorilla tourism, several mechanisms were created including minimizing the problem of human-gorilla and other wildlife conflicts, revenue sharing scheme, resource use zones, and employment of locals as rangers, guides and many who are involved in the daily management of gorilla parks.
Locals have also engaged in income generating tourism enterprises such as fruit and vegetable growing, honey bee keeping, selling hand-craft products, and providing accommodation, food and beverage services as well as community and cultural tours. Therefore the majority of tourists who come for gorilla trekking, end up staying longer as they also spend more money on various tourist activities and experiences.
In Bwindi impenetrable forest national park and Mgahinga gorilla tourists visit the BaTwa cultural trail and Iby’Iwacu cultural village while in Volcanoes national park Rwanda. Many locals believe gorilla tourism benefits in spite of the existing poverty. Some of the local sustainable agriculture, cultural and conservation organizations receive donations or host visitors who also fund their conservation activities. In the long run, local people including former poachers have changed their mindset and desist from anti-conservation practices. This has made gorilla parks premier eco-tourism destinations attracting many tourist safaris.
Despite the larger appreciation for gorilla tourism, common cases of encroachment and snare traps that often kill or injure gorillas still prevail. Even though these apes are not the main target, poaching for bush meat is directed at small antelopes and bush pigs.
Complaints for wildlife conflicts are still a challenge much is being done by gorilla authorities. Locals are empowered to manage animals that ride local farmlands, planting of thorns and unpalatable crops like tea along the park boundaries, buffer zones in Nkuringo area south of Bwindi forest were created.
Note, however, gorilla parks need to be managed better than today due to increase in tourists and development of infrastructures like hotels, roads, towns, population increase leads to high demand for land and natural resources. Gorillas and their habitats are kept off limits through daily monitoring by armed rangers who fight encroachment and illegal activities while gorilla doctors carry out disease monitoring and intervention to cure sick or injured gorillas.
Therefore, gorilla trekking appear to be hope to increase funds for conservation. Tourists by purchasing a gorilla permit, you’re contributing to gorilla tourism and conservation. Seeing gorillas is a once in a life time like no other wildlife experience in Africa. You can book a gorilla safari any time of the year with a tour operator.