Is Gorilla Trekking Tourism Good for Gorilla Conservation?
The Reality of Gorilla Trekking Tourism and Conservation in Uganda – A Win-Win Outcome Thus Far.
Earth Day is not just on April 22-Earth Day is every day of the year.
Gorilla Trekking Tourism and Conservation – Reality. Gorilla Trekking is the Featured Attraction in Uganda. Everyone and anyone an African Traveler will venture into Uganda for the almost sacred Gorilla Grail in Mgahinga Gorilla Park or Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. Most do not think about whether their Time with the Mountain Gorillas is good for Gorillas. One should also ask if Gorilla Trekking is Gorilla Trekking Tourism is good for the local population and add if Gorillas and People co-exist living in relative harmony.
Gorilla Trekking is one of the newer Tourism Activities in Africa. In the 1960s, Uganda, in its Tourism Prime, was seen as a Wildlife and not a premier Primate Destination like it is today,
In Uganda, it was Walter Baumgärtel, the proprietor of the Travellers Rest Hotel in Kisoro, was the first to persuade the British Colonial Administration to allow him to take Guests into the nearby Forest to see the Gentle Giants of the Forest while his friend Dian Fossey in Rwanda was definitely against Gorilla Tourism and strictly pro-conservation despite retro-historical articles by sites using her iconic Gorilla Loving image as a marketing tool. However, it was she who habituated the First Gorilla Group, and in retrospect, she would applaud the efforts and progress that has been made in the Conservation of Gorillas.
One cannot leave out the plight of the indigenous people such as the Batwa, the first people of the forest, their wisdom and knowledge of the forest, who are now conservation refugees. People separated from their land, living as beggars, squatters, and marginalized by society,
Consider the words of Justin Trudeau “Indigenous peoples have known for thousands of years how to care for our planet. The rest of us have a lot to learn and no time to waste.”
The Batwa believe the natural world is sacred, consider them, they are anti-development. They are however for pro-environmentally responsible development.
In April of 2022, proposals to build two roads through the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. The Batwa-like conservationists would oppose such a move. There is a need for better roads around the Gorilla Parks, but not through the parks.
Below you will find the Pros and Cons of Gorilla Tourism.
Taking a Closer Look at Gorilla Trekking Tourism and Conservation in Uganda and beyond:
Who wins and who loses?
Winners – the Mountain Gorillas:
The Mountain Gorilla Population has increased to 480 Gorillas in Uganda, recording steady growth. This is due to the protection of their habitat that they have increased from the parks being off-limits to poachers, farming, and other forms of encroachments.
Poaching of Gorillas has also been drastically reduced since most poaching is now for bushmeat for antelopes. At times, Gorillas get caught in the snares intended for antelopes.
The Uganda Wildlife Authority has snare patrols, and rangers scour the forest for snares and remove them. Additionally, the Gorilla Doctors regularly check on the well-being of each gorilla family in the gorilla parks.
They have increased monitoring and research regarding the habits and ways of Mountain Gorillas. Conservation organizations are also making a difference in protecting the Mountain Gorillas with their resources.
2020 and since brought both tragedies, the killing of the Silverback Rafiki, and moments of joy brought about the ongoing Ugandan record Gorilla baby boom.
Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is home to almost half of all remaining Mountain Gorillas.
To protect both Mountain Gorillas and trekkers, masks are now worn in the presence of the Gorillas. This is another way to reduce the chance of respiratory infections that can go from gorillas to humans or from humans to gorillas.
Winners – Gorilla Trekkers:
Gorilla Trekkers have access to the Mountain Gorillas that cannot be found in any zoo. They do not survive in captivity. 8 Trekkers are allowed with a Gorilla family. For the one-of-a-kind Gorilla Habituation Experience, only four trekkers are permitted.
For many, this is the ultimate, once-in-a-lifetime experience. The Gorilla Tourism dollar pays for many things, including Conservation projects and efforts underway in and near the parks.
Since Mountain Gorillas are not found in any zoo world. Mountain Gorilla Trekkers are often conservationists and realize how fortunate they are to see the mountain gorillas in their natural habitat.
Gorilla Trekkers often do not realize that the permit price is used in part for conservation purposes. During the pandemic, the funds of the Uganda Wildlife Authority have been stretched because there were no gorilla trekkers.
Domestic Tourism helps, but it cannot replace a fraction of lost Gorilla Trekking permit income.
Gorilla Trekking is conducted following strict rules regarding the state of health of Trekkers and their conduct, making it a safer experience for trekkers and gorillas alike.
There are new rules and regulations for trekkers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Winners – Local Communities and Infrastructure:
The local communities have benefited from Gorilla Tourism. Bwindi Community Hospital, one of the best rural communities, is just one example. Take the porters carrying your daypack, the staff at lodges, guides, Bike Rentals, and Village Walks.
We can add schools, clinics, and educational programs that focus away from the forest and put them on community projects instead.
One must mention Bwindi Community Hospital, a Kellerman Foundation project. The hospital was initially built with funds from the Kellerman Foundation to assist the Batwa People.
Today, many gorilla trekkers have visited the hospital and contributed. That includes foundations such as the Clinton, Gates foundation, and even celebrities like Elton John. The hospital and nursing teaching college is now one of the best equipped and staffed rural hospitals in Uganda, extending the lives of many, including the Batwa, whose lives ended in their thirties and had a high infant mortality rate.
The many communities surrounding the parks have benefited from Gorilla Tourism, which becomes evident from the many projects that you will find in the area surrounding Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and Mgahinga Gorilla Park. This is a thriving area in Uganda.
Even though their gardens might be raided, local communities realize the benefits Gorilla Tourism is bringing to them. They have become forest protectors, reporting violations such as poaching small animals.
Winners -Sustainable Tourism based Businesses:
Lodges, restaurants, Souvenir Shops, Local Porters and Guides, Driver-Guides, and many others have benefited from Gorilla Tourism. But it goes beyond the obvious. Take Ride for a Woman is a self-help group that has been renting bikes out to tourists. They repair their bikes and raise funds through rentals and guided bike tours in and out of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest.
Villages have become guides for Village Walks, hiking outside of the park. Others have become carvers and batik makers. Basket weavers, pottery creators, and more bring Gorilla Tourism dollars to help their families buy more supplies. Innovations by skilled artists show up each month, bringing in income.
The Pandemic has done great harm to tourism and Gorilla Tourism in particular. 2022 looks to be a better year for Gorilla Tourism in Uganda.
Fairtrade coffee and tea surrounding the forests have brought income to other families.
Most businesses are based on Sustainable and Eco-Tourism, suitable for all concerned. The areas around the parks are some of the most densely populated areas in Uganda.
Winners- Uganda Wildlife Authority & Ugandan Government:
The Uganda Wildlife Authority receives most of its income from Gorilla Permits and daily entrance fees into the park. All is done to ensure the well-being of both the Mountain Gorillas and Trekkers alike.
A sizeable portion of the Gorilla Permits goes to the local community overseen by UWA. the Ugandan government supplements the work done by UWA’s Rangers, Trackers, and Staff with military, police, and Tourism Police protection.
Anti-Poaching, encroachment into the Forest, is dealt with firmly, aided by new laws with more severe consequences than in Times past.
The1,500 Gor perilla Permit price in Rwanda has resulted in more trekkers in Uganda calling for more supervision and enforcement of laws protecting the gorillas.
Losers – the First People of the Forest – the Batwa People:
Conservation efforts are not just conserving Primates such as Mountain Gorillas, Wildlife, and Forests; it must include the forest’s indigenous people. The Batwa people were the first people in the forest, and they had lived here in harmony with nature for thousands of years as hunter-gatherers in the rainforests of Uganda, Rwanda, and DR Congo.
The Batwa lived in harmony with the forest and the Mountain Gorillas. They were hunter-gatherers that left a low ecological footprint behind them. They made no villages and had no permanent structures but moved with the seasons. They left a negligible environmental impact footprint that soon grew over in the verdant forests.
The Bantu Ethnic groups arrived and began to slash and burn the forests and turn them into grazing and farmland. They erected villages, towns, and later territories that became Kingdoms. Often the various Bantu ethnic group were hostile to the Batwa and their ways, and others brought them into their societal structure, but always at the lower end.
Today, the indigenous Batwa live under the threat of extinction as a people. They have become conservation refugees, and only a few have taken up their cause. They had no representation as a people living as outcasts from the society around them, watching tourists spend more money on Gorilla Permits than they would ever make in a lifetime.
Some Conservation groups, such as the World Conservation Society and a few others, have recognized the wrongs done to the Batwa. They are working on combining Nature Conservation and the rights of the Batwa indigenous people to be respected and with dignity.
In 2020 the Batwa won a unanimous decision by the Constitutional Court of Uganda that they had been wronged. The case is now being appealed at Uganda’s High Court.
Today, as a Gorilla Trekker Tourist, you can spend time with some of the Batwa as they guide you through the forest, keeping their cultural traditions alive for future generations.
Currently, there are no Batwa Rangers. Oddly, Walter Baumgärtel, the father of Gorilla Tourism, was led by trackers and guides from the Batwa Community. He was allowed as an honorary game warden of the British Colonial government to take visitors from his Travellers Rest Hotel gorilla tracking.
We encourage you to read more about the Batwa by clicking on this link.
Gorilla Trekking Tourism and Conservation in Uganda – The Future – remembering that every day is Earth Day.
Protecting the Gorilla Habitats is of utmost importance. Enlargement of both Mgahinga Gorilla Park and Bwindi Impenetrable Forest must be a top priority. Both parks need a much-needed buffer zone to protect both forests and primates, and other wildlife in the parks.
The Ideal – Return the Forest to the Gorillas and Batwa People.