Mountain gorillas are listed as critically endangered apes by the world conservancy IUCN due to the few numbers remaining in the wild, said to be less than 900 only living in the limited location of high altitude, (between 1,500 to 4,500 meters above sea level) habitats and ecosystems of the Virunga and bwindi – Mgahinga conservation areas which span across borders of Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic republic of Congo. Currently gorilla trekking safaris and tours are conducted in four national parks of volcanoes in Rwanda, bwindi and Mgahinga national parks in Uganda and Virunga national park in the DRC.
The dense pristine montane rain forests can possibly be trekked with the rise of modern responsible tours and travel in gorilla destinations where gorilla tourism is highly limited to few nature lovers creating less impact on the natural environment and local cultures. Initially when gorilla national parks were being gazetted, conservation strategies were geared towards compensating local communities who could no longer access resources such as wild honey, bush meat and medicinal herbs from the forests.
In Rwanda alone 10 % of revenues from permit sales contribute to community development projects like wise in Uganda 20% of the money has helped people to appreciate gorillas and tourism. Infrastructure such as roads, schools, cultural villages, eco friendly lodges and rearing of domestic pigs, and goats are among the projects owned by local people who directly benefit from sustainable tourism business. Significantly poaching for bush meat, encroachment and human wildlife conflicts have reduced with increased sustainable livelihoods and reduced poverty levels.
On the first part of this page, gorillas are listed as critically endangered apes with 95% DNA similar to humans thus susceptible to contagious human diseases amongst other threats. when it comes to lessons of history, there are doubtless many things Rwanda has learnt from the past genocide in 1994 and civil wars in neighboring DRC’s north and south of kivu province that not only led to loss of lives and destruction of tourism infrastructures but also led to reduction of gorilla numbers destructing the course of gorilla tourism development mainly in Rwanda and DRC during the late 1990’s Whilst Uganda’s gorilla tourism was slowly thriving partly due to relative peace and security.
After the genocide in 1994, Rwanda prioritized tourism as a major economic activity that would bring foreign exchange with the government establishing a well managed tourism industry and conservation policies securing volcanoes national park which has turned out today to be Rwanda’s pride and prestigious tourist attraction overcoming the last 15 years of negative media coverage discouraging travelers to visit Rwanda. As a result of peace and security, good infrastructure and greening of tourism through responsible travel, gorilla numbers in Rwanda’s volcanoes national park have increased as well those in DRC and Uganda due to trans-boundary collaborative monitoring of gorillas by both countries.
Conservation initiatives such as baby gorilla naming ceremony in Rwanda, revenue sharing, vegetable and fruit growing and bee keeping inculcate community ownership of mountain gorillas while revival efforts embarked on aggressive marketing of gorilla trekking in Africa as a high end tourism product has brought gorilla destinations on the world scene compelling many travelers to plan trips to the Virunga region.
As a result of gorilla tourism, habitats and ecosystems have been restored and gazzatted staying under 24 hours of armed protection by rangers saving gorillas from the brink of extinction. Creating employment for local communities involved in the business of tourism who in turn encourage eco tourism through community and cultural tours around gorilla national parks. Consequently gorilla have gained international support since the ground breaking research of legendary primatologist Dian Fossey in the 1960’s, with international conservation bodies such as world wildlife fund, international gorilla conservation group, gorilla doctors setting up offices in gorilla national parks is an indication of how gorilla tourism has helped to conserve mountain gorillas and their habitats as well as development of local communities.