There are quite a number of benefits of gorilla tourism. The magical gorilla tourism in East and central Africa’s dense forests came to lime light in mid – 1900’s, when the search for then critically endangered mountain gorillas became a highlight for many travelers. Gorilla tourism has since been pivotal in the conservation of these mighty apes, as well increase awareness and enhanced research on mountain gorillas.
Research about mountain gorillas however began a century ago when the German explorer, Capt. Robert Von Beringe made his maiden trip to the Virunga region in 1902. In this exploration, Robert was mainly interested in their scientific composition, zoological components, classification, but later the need for their conservation became rather more pertinent.
Gorilla tourism in Africa gained momentum in mid 1960s when a popular primatologist, Dian Fossey arrived in the Virunga region for a long term research work about mountain gorillas, specifically in Virunga national park, Volcanoes national park and Mgahinga gorilla national park in D.R. Congo, Rwanda and Uganda respectively.
She set up her research station, Karisoke research center in Volcanoes national park, specifically to study, conserve and protect the mountain gorillas that were on the verge of extinction.
Why Gorilla Tourism?
Employment and improved livelihoods. Gorilla tourism in East and central Africa has created various avenues for employment opportunities to the local community members and as a result improved livelihoods. Private investments such as safari lodges, craft shops, etc. have been set up, and these help to skill and employ community members as chefs, waiters/waitresses, security guards, house keepers and more.
Gorilla tourism is in fact one form of sustainable tourism that has continuously become a cash – cow for the countries that host mountain gorillas. In fact, gorilla tourism alone generates about 50% of total tourism revenue in Uganda, Rwanda and D.R. Congo.
This significant income raised from gorilla tourism is responsible for the conservation and development of infrastructure in many tourism destinations including roads, accommodation facilities, camping sites as well as economically empowered communities, in terms of real income and provision of social services like schools, medical centers, etc.
Conservation of mountain gorillas
The primary role of gorilla tourism is to conserve and protect these gorilla species from extinction. Since the introduction of gorilla trekking safaris in the Virunga region and Bwindi impenetrable national park, their numbers have increased tremendously from only 400 in 1990s to the current 1000 species which confirms that mountain gorillas are no longer critically endangered.
The revenue collected from trekkers is in turn used to pay rangers, trackers, gorilla doctors who are responsible to protect, monitor the day – to – day well being of various families of gorillas. The revenue is also used to habituate mountain gorillas in respective families, to enable daily visitations and easier monitoring.
The community has also been fully engaged and empowered through revenue-sharing and this has in turn transformed the former poachers into avid conservation agents. Gorilla tourism has helped to reduce poaching activities. There are assigned personnel in all gorilla parks who are responsible for removing snares set by poachers, sensitizing the community against dangers of poaching and empowering economically to be self-reliant.