For many households around mountain gorilla parks, tourism has been their lifeline. That is until the COVID-19 pandemic affected the tourism industry...[details]
HOW LONG HAVE TOURISTS BEEN ABLE TO VISIT GORILLAS?
Gorilla tourism was started in Uganda by Walter Baumgärtel, who managed the Travellers Rest Hotel from 1955 until 1969. However, intensive gorilla tourism only started in 1978, when the Mountain Gorilla Project in Rwanda habituated some gorilla groups specifically for tourists. At about the same time gorilla tourism started in the Kahuzi-Biega National Park.
HOW CAN TOURISM HELP GORILLAS?
The revenue generated by gorilla tourism aims to ensure gorilla conservation. The number of gorillas in the Virungas increased from 261 in 1973 to 324 in 1989 - the tourism project was credited with this positive development. Nowadays, it is possibly to visit the eastern and the western gorillas in several areas.
HOW ARE VISITS TO THE GORILLAS MONITORED?
To prevent harm to the animals, the number of tourists per gorilla group is usually limited to eight people and the duration of the visit is restricted to 1 hour. The considerable amounts of money that are paid for gorilla visits are tempting and can easily result in corruption. Many people make a profit and there is a risk that money is the prime motivation here, not gorilla conservation. Only very strict monitoring by state actors can prevent people ignoring the rules. If the required minimum distance is not adhered to, the risk of transferring diseases is drastically increased. It is up to every individual tourist to help ensure that tourism will benefit and not harm the gorillas.
GORILLA TOURISM - PROS AND CONS
Intensive gorilla tourism was set up in Rwanda in the late 1970s: groups of mountain gorillas were habituated to humans with the specific purpose of taking tourists to visit them. The same procedure was followed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and in Uganda. To make sure that the animals are not adversely affected by visits, the tourists have to comply with strict rules. The question arises, however, as to whether using the gorillas as a tourist attraction is actually a beneficial protection measure - tourism may also have negative effects on the animals.
A higher degree of safety: the regular presence of people deters poachers.
Better monitoring: regular visits help to record births, deaths and other population changes, to identify health problems in individual gorilla groups and to record illegal activities in the protected areas.
Source of foreign exchange: the considerable income generated from gorilla tourism safeguards the maintenance of the protected areas. The national park authorities benefit from this income, as does anybody who generates income from tourism including, albeit to a smaller degree, the resident population.
Popularity: being charismatic animals, gorillas generate a lot of interest - both from the media and scientists.
Gorillas lose their natural shyness toward people: as a result they raid crops and no longer flee from poachers.
Infectious diseases: diseases can be transferred from humans and domestic animals to gorillas.
Behavioural changes: the presence of humans may generate stress.
Population pressure: an increasing number of people hope to profit from tourism and therefore move closer to the protected areas. People living in the neighbourhood of the gorillas but making little or no profit from tourism are often frustrated and, as a consequence, they may hinder protection measures.
Habituation of too many gorillas: the range countries may become too dependent on gorilla tourism and habituate more and more gorilla groups.
Within national parks habitat is lost for tourist facilities and vegetation is destroyed.
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