Gorilla Trekking Tourism and Conservation in Uganda – Now and the Future

Posted by on March 4, 2018

Is Gorilla Trekking Tourism Good for Gorilla Conservation?

The Reality of Gorilla Trekking Tourism and Conservation in Uganda – A Win-Win Outcome Thus Far.

Gorilla Trekking Tourism and Conservation – The Reality.  Gorilla Trekking is the Featured Attraction to  Uganda.  Everyone and anyone that is 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 con co-exists living in relative harmony.

Gorilla Trekking is one of the newer Tourism Activities in Africa.  In the 1960’s 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 Travelers 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 in spite of retro-historical articles by sites using her iconic Gorilla Loving image as a marketing tool. However it was her who habituated the First Gorilla Group and in retrospect she would probably applaud the efforts and progress that has been made in the Conservation of Gorillas.

There are Pros and Cons to the Issue of Gorilla Tourism and the well-being of the Gentle Giants of the Forest in the Virunga Volcanoes and Bwindi Impenetrable Forest.

Taking a Closer Look at Gorilla Trekking Tourism and Conservation in Uganda and beyond:

 Winners – the Mountain Gorillas:

The Mountain Gorilla Population has increased to 480 Gorillas in Uganda with steady growth being recorded.  This is due to the protection that they have increased.  From the parks being off-limits to farming and other encroachment.

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 but thanks to the Gorilla Doctors often the wellbeing of Gorillas is often restored.

Increased monitoring and research regarding the habits and ways of Mountain Gorillas. Conservation organizations with their resources are also making a big difference in protecting the Mountain Gorillas.

 Winners – Gorilla Trekkers:

Gorilla Trekkers have access to the Mountain Gorillas that cannot be found in any zoo in the world, they do not survive in captivity.  8 Trekkers are allowed with a Gorilla family, 4 for the one of kind Gorilla Habituation Experience.  The Permit price makes Gorilla Trekking the most expensive Tourist Activity in Africa and yet Trekkers keep coming.

For many, this is the ultimate, once in a lifetime experience.  The Gorilla Tourism dollar pays for many things including Conservation projects and efforts that are underway in and near the parks.

Gorilla Trekking is conducted following strict Rules as to the state of health of Trekkers and their conduct making it a safer experience for trekkers and gorillas alike.

 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, Village Walks.

We can add schools, clinics, educational programs that take the focus away from the forest and put it on community projects instead.

The many communities surrounding the parks have benefited from Gorilla Tourism and that 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.

 Winners -Tourism based Businesses:

Lodges, Restaurant, Souvenir Shops, Local Porters and Guides, Driver-Guides and many others have benefited from Gorilla Tourism.

Most business are based on Sustainable Tourism while others are not.  The temptation is always to want to make cash show by a recent call by some Lodge Manager to increase the size of Trekkers allowed from 8 to 12.  Something we believe would be a step backwards and be detrimental to the Gorillas who make this all possible.  For the most part businesses realize that we need a healthy population of Gorillas since without that the businesses die.

 Winners- Uganda Wildlife Authority & Ugandan Government:

The Uganda Wildlife Authority receives the majority of its income from Gorilla Permits and from daily entrance fees into the park.  All is done to ensure the wellbeing 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 that is 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 stringent consequences than in Times past.

The increase of Rwanda’s Gorilla Permits 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:

The Batwa pygmies had lived in harmony with the forest and with the Mountain Gorillas.  They were hunter-gatherers that left a low ecological footprint behind them.  They lived long before the Bantu People arrived and began to slash and burn and most often were hostile to the Batwa and their ways.

in 1991 the forests of Bwindi and what is now Mgahinga Gorilla Park were gazetted into Parks, the people living in them evicted, the Batwa People without compensation since they did now own land.

Today the Batwa are under threat and should be declared an endangered people. While the number of Mountain Gorillas are on the increase, the number of Batwa are declining.

While the Mountain Gorillas had active advocates in the Conservation, there were no Advocates for the Batwa People in the early years. Offering Tourists to learn from the Batwa is a small step forward in keeping their ways and traditions alive.

Gorilla Trekking Tourism and Conservation in Uganda – The Future:  The pressures on the Habitat of the Gorillas will continue.  What most Trekkers do not realize is populaton density in the surrounding communities.  Rwanda just had a portion of land added to their Gorilla Park.  Uganda also needs to enlarge the habitat of the Gorillas in Bwindi Forest, a tough challenge to say the least, however it is man who put Gorillas on the endangered list and not the Gorilla Community Educations, school education, all raising the awareness about the Mountain Gorillas of Uganda. We would recommend taking members of the community on Gorilla Treks when not all permits are sold, again to raise awareness.  Local Awareness is the key along with revenue sharing where they see a return on their conservation efforts and alternative places for the gathering of wild honey, things from the forest in Buffer zones.

Our ideal – Return the Forest to the Gorillas and Bwatwa People and allow us to take a peak on a Trek but that is wishful thinking and the dream of the Batwa People.