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Gorillas and tourism are inextricably linked. Nor the gorillas nor tourism can stand on its won without the other. Today about four African countries have embraced gorilla tourism, a form of tourism that is based on watching the gorillas in the wild. These include Uganda, Rwanda, Congo, Gabon and Central African Republic. Within Uganda and Rwanda, gorilla tourism has been a success! The annual revenue raised from gorilla tourism is important in protecting the mountain gorillas, fund conservation and management of the parks, as well as local and national economies.

Reconciling the demand for tourist dollars with the needs of the gorillas is a delicate balancing act. The key is to minimize the risk of disease transmission and to avoid disrupting the gorillas’ natural behaviour. Accordingly, tourists must abide by very strict rules (if you are planning on seeing gorillas in the wild, take the Gorilla FriendlyTM Pledge. Gradual harmonization of such rules and regulations across all four mountain gorilla parks, as well as promotion of regional tourism circuits, is paving the way for the development of a regional tourism programme.

The long-term success of gorilla tourism hinges on the enthusiasm and commitment of the local communities around the parks. IGCP and its partners have introduced mechanisms such as revenue sharing schemes to ensure that these people benefit directly from tourism. In addition, small and large tourism enterprises have been initiated by cooperatives and associations, with support from IGCP and sometimes in partnership with the private sector.

History of Gorilla Tourism

German adventure Walter Baumgartel was one of the first people to recognize that tourism could provide a reason for locals to support preservation of the forests, which would thus ensure the survival of mountain gorillas. He bought the Travelers Rest Hotel in Kisoro, Uganda, in 1955 and people soon came to try to track the great apes. By the late 1960’s gorilla tracking had become quite popular.

Gorilla tourism today stands at a crossroads ranking among the top adventure activities in Africa. Many travelers around the world who take Uganda safaris include gorilla trekking as the main tourism activity within their tour itinerary. All three countries where the remaining mountain gorillas live have a history of instability that makes it hard for international conservation organizations to operate with any certainty.

Several organizations promote sustainable agricultural and tourism practices and encourage the active participation of local communities in conservation, and this has played a large part in ensuring the gorillas’ survival during turbulent times. However, many of the residents of local communities around these protected areas remain bitter; they’re aware of the vast sums of money flowing in from visitors, and that very little of it reaches them.

However, the organizations that work towards gorilla tourism are trying to improve on gorilla tourism and the human wildlife conflicts have really reduced in the neighboring local communities that live at the edges of the forests in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga National Park.

Gorilla Tourism in Bwindi

Gorilla tourism in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park dates back in 1993 when Mubare gorilla family opened for gorilla trekking. Since then, Bwindi National Park marks 26 years of successful gorilla tourism. Mubare group features as the first family to be habituated and also to open for trekkers on gorilla safari in Bwindi National Park and Uganda at large. This group is found in Buhoma sector in the northern side of the park. Since it was officially opened for trekking, gorilla tourism in Bwindi National Park has witnessed tremendous developments. It should be noted that gorilla tourism and conservation started in 1991 when Bwindi National Park was gazetted as a national park with aim of protecting mountain gorillas and their habitat.

Today, over 19 more gorilla families have been habituated and set for trekking in Bwindi alone making a total of 20 gorilla groups. They are distributed in the four major gorilla trekking regions; Buhoma, Rushaga, Nkuringo and Ruhija. They include Rwingi, Kutu, Nshongi, Mishaya, Kahungye, Busingye, Bweza, Bikingi and Mucunguzi in Rushaga region; Bitukura, Kyaguriro, Mukiza, Oruzongo in Ruhija area; Nkuringo, Christmas, Bushaho group in Nkuringo region; Habinyanja, Rushegura and Katwe group in Buhoma regions. The significant increase in the number of the gorilla families in this park can be attributed to increase in the number of mountain gorillas which has been supported by the prevailing peace and security in the country. Currently, this park inhabits about half of all the 1004 mountain gorillas that still exist on earth.

Unlike other gorilla destinations, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is the only place on earth where mountain gorilla habituation experience is done.  This is a unique primate adventure and unlike the usual gorilla treks, habituation experience involves following semi habituated gorillas in order to make them get used to human presence before they are opened for gorilla trekking.

The 36 years of gorilla tourism in Bwindi National Park is characterized by high demand for gorilla permits. Unlike before, today each gorilla permit in Uganda goes at $600 per person for foreign non-residents, $500 for foreign residents and shs.250000 for East African residents. However, from 2020, visitors on Uganda safari in Bwindi National Park will be required to pay $700 for foreign non-residents, $600 for foreign residents and shs. 250000 for East African residents. About 160 gorilla permits are available for booking in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.

The 26 years of gorilla tourism comes with several gorilla lodges for trekkers to trek. They are distributed in Nkuringo, Rushaga, Ruhija and Buhoma. You can choose from budget to luxury accommodation options to make your gorilla safari experience complete in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. They include Buhoma Lodge/Chameleon Hill Lodge/Mahogany Spring Lodge (Luxury), Engagi Lodge Bwindi/Clouds Mount Gorilla Lodge/Gorilla Mist Camp (Midrange) or Buhoma Community Rest Camp/Broadbill Forest Camp (Budget).