Mountain gorillas are very rare species of primates that are limited to the Virunga mountains region and today it features the most rewarding African adventure safaris that most travelers tend to associate with by visiting these gentle giants profound in the thick equatorial rain forest jungles. Remarkably no one would ever visit the gorillas minus paying tribute to the late popular Dian Fossey, an American natural scientist who dedicated most of her life researching the gorillas in an attempt to save them from the threats of extinction. If you have ever watched or heard about the movie “gorillas in the mist” you probably know the groundbreaking conservation efforts geared towards protection of gorilla habitats and ecosystems.
Gorilla trekking activity involves going deep into the forests to search for those gentle giants. In actual sense it implies that humans are some how infringing on the natural rights of gorilla habitats consequently rising a lot of debate on whether gorilla tourism is helping conservation of mountain gorillas and their ecosystems.
As many wonder about the sustainability and continuity of gorilla tourism impacts on mountain gorillas given the uncertainty of seeing gorillas in the future. Therefore its better you get enlightened about the gorilla tourism and what could result. In the first place you will need to know the history of allowing tourists to see gorillas, secondary the development of facilities and infrastructure around their habitats and thirdly gorillas were listed by the IUCN as critically endangered species who must be conserved at all costs
Encroachment on gorilla habitat range and ecosystems primarily by humans in search of land for agriculture, the Virunga regions is surrounded by heavy population densities thus many people depend on natural resources such as water, forests and plant species. Most of these resources are found in the park thus it is relevant to enfranchise communities neighboring gorillas in form of equal economic opportunities so as t reduce the strain put on gorilla habitats.
Poaching is another critical threat involving hunting and killing of gorillas plus other wildlife. This illegal activity used to be rampant during civil unrests in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda during the 1990’s. Many gorillas either killed or kidnapped hence reducing their populations in the wild. Today strict rules and laws have been enforced by the respective governments that share the massive Virunga region as has yielded increasing numbers of gorillas.
Tourism is an important factor among the threats of gorillas. Gorilla tourism developed early in the 1990’s when the three countries of Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo realized that tourism would generate revenue to boost economic development. However, tourists coming to trek gorillas put a high risk of transiting human related diseases to gorillas. Gorillas can easily get infested with diseases such as influenza, coughs and flu, tuberculosis and diarrhea. These are the reasons why gorilla trekking is highly regulated to tourists. For example gorillas can only be seen by a maximum number of 8 people for one hour per single day.
Political conflicts and insecurity around the Virunga region. As humans fight during war, gorillas are caught up in the middle and some times get killed or forced to leave their natural habitats where they can hardly survive. This was evident during the 1994 Rwandan genocide and of recent in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo rebel activities tend to disrupt gorilla conservation. Secondary wars lead to destruction of forests which further reduces the habitats of gorillas.
On an important note, you should know that the invention of gorilla tourism was grounded to positively improve their numbers and enfranchise people to be aware of tourism as a contributing factor to the lives of gorillas. Revenue resources got from tourism are used to fund conservation efforts and ultimately to enforce severe laws and procedures which can help reduce the risk posed by threats including contagious human diseases.
Precautionary Measures that have been put in place to reduce danger of human diseases spreading to Gorillas
Firstly the Gorilla Trekking permits should be made expensive so as to limit the number of people coming to see gorillas. it means that many who want see gorilla cannot afford to pay the price of the permit hence only a few people who can pay the price will still be subject to regulations of trekking.
Secondary the number of people allowed to visit gorillas in the Africa is strictly 8 per day thus the respective tourism agencies in Rwanda, Uganda and the DRC have mastered to limit permits given out each day.
As a result the pristine habitats of gorillas cannot be depleted give the few people who can see gorillas.
And thirdly the standard time set to spend with gorillas is only 1 hour per day which is intended to keep gorillas free from extended hours of human interface even if gorilla habituation process makes gorillas familiar to people, it does not however alter their natural wild behavior.
Tourists infected with diseases are not allowed to trek gorillas and this has been implemented at all of the trekking sections in Uganda, Rwanda and DRC. Only those who are not sick can see gorillas.
One more measure is to keep a distance of 7 meters when trekking gorillas neither flash photography nor touching gorillas is allowed. Although gorillas are very curious and may violate the distance, guides are ever present to tell you to move steps backwards or lie down by truing away from the gorillas.
The gorilla doctors an international organization dedicated to prevent monitor and cure lives of gorillas in partnership with the respective country governments, veterinary gorilla doctors were set up in all the national parks to closely monitor gorillas including treating sick or injured gorillas.
Sharing of revenues got from gorilla tourism has addressed the issues of encroachment on gorilla habitats. Communities neighboring national parks in Rwanda, Uganda and DRC share 20% of the money which is channeled through projects that enhance the livelihoods of people. This has greatly changed the perception of people and has compensated the resources that people used to get from the forests before being turned in protected areas. Today local communities have become custodians of gorilla habitats.
Creating strong peace and stable security in the Virunga region, give the fact that the region is shared by Uganda, Rwanda and the DRC peace and security becomes a big factor regarding trans-boundary collaborations. Jointly both countries created a wildlife protection force (the Special Wildlife Integrated and Protection Force SWIFT) that stay in designated camps within national parks.
Other security agencies like counter terrorism police, tourism police and army jointly carry out regular patrols in the forest and ultimately protect the territories of the forests. On the other side gorillas and humans are safe.
In conclusion, gorilla tourism is not a threat to the life of mountain gorillas but has rather helped to bring foreign revenues that are primarily meant to fund conservation efforts to protect the critically endangered creatures. The money is also used to pay for salaries of security agencies, gorilla doctors and carter for other activities that help in conserving gorillas.
This explains why gorilla permits tend to be expensive, so keep it in mind that when you purchase a gorilla permit in one of the three countries you will be greatly contributing to the conservation efforts. Therefore travelers coming to see gorillas should be responsible eco tourists who will appreciate nature and do less harm to it while trekking.