Uganda Wildlife Authority has held a meeting with members of the Association of Uganda Tour Operators (AUTO) following disagreements over a decision to tag six permits for the Nkuringo gorilla group to a community-owned lodge in the area.
Four years ago, UWA together with the Kisoro District Administration and the International Gorilla Conservation Program (IGCP) agreed that in order to enhance the business viability of an eco-lodge that was to be constructed for the Nkuringo community in appreciation of their overwhelming support for conservation, the tracking permits for the Nkuringo Gorilla Group be tagged to the lodge.
The UWA Executive Director made a detailed presentation on the story behind the decision to attach the permits to the eco-lodge that would be marketed and managed by The Uganda Safari Company, one of the tour companies operating in Uganda.
He explained that it is the Nkuringo community not Uganda Wildlife Authority that awarded the concession to The Uganda Safari Company, and further observed that if the venture turns out successfully, it would be a good model for wildlife management especially for places like Mt. Elgon where encroachment is rampant.
He said that UWA has made binding commitments to the Nkuringo community, which has also made binding commitments with the private partner. He also said that the contract has a timeframe, and it would be reviewed when it expires. He clarified that the community will have first priority to buy the permits but if they fail to buy them within six months of the tracking date, UWA would open them to the public.
However the tour operators argued that tagging the gorilla tracking permits to the eco-lodge would give unfair advantage to The Uganda Safari Company, and they requested that the contract be cancelled.
Some of the major issues that came to the fore included the following:-
How can the Nkuringo benefit directly from the gorilla tourism after giving up their land for gorilla conservation?
How can all the divergent interests of the different stakeholders be catered for?
It was resolved that a meeting be held within two weeks in Kisoro town in south western Uganda involving all stakeholders including Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), Association of Uganda Tour Operators (AUTO), International Gorilla Conservation Program (IGCP), Nkuringo Conservation and Development Foundation (NCDF) and Kisoro Local Government. It was also agreed that the Minister of Tourism Trade and Industry would chair the meeting. The AUTO Executive Committee was also charged with the responsibility of writing a discussion paper that would form the basis of the meeting that is meant to help all stakeholders reach a common understanding.