Gorilla tourism has helped mountain gorillas make a successful comeback from the very brink of extinction. By the mid to late 1970s, their population plummeted to less than 400 individuals across their last surviving habitats in Rwanda, Uganda and what was then Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo). Increased interest in their conservation, coupled with the advent of gorilla tourism in the 1980s and 90s, populations increased steadily. Last year, the results of recent census studies confirmed the total population for mountain gorillas was now at 880 individuals, split across the two distinct locations of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and the Virunga Volcanoes, the latter comprising three different conservation areas across Rwanda, DRC and Uganda.
Gorilla trekking has not only become a vital conservation fund-raising tool in Uganda, gorilla tours contributes approximately 80% of the national wildlife authority’s overall budget, thereby financing the bulk of wildlife and habitat conservation across the country as a whole but it has also turned the gorillas into a valuable commodity prized by local communities and government alike. These gentle giants provide much-needed funding for local infrastructure and a source of employment on both a local and national level, as well as playing a catalytic role in these countries’ nascent tourism industries.
While a typical gorilla tourist’s main objective is to encounter the gorilla, they end up visiting other parks and attractions in the region as well. Tourism has become a major player according to the Rwanda Development Board revenues have almost doubled in the last five years and tourism now accounts for 7.8% of Rwanda’s GDP and growing. The World Wildlife Fund has recently estimated that each gorilla brings in USD $1 million in revenue each year for Uganda. On the very simple premise that nobody likes to kill a cash cow, this alone appears to bode well for their survival.
“Tourism can as well play an optimistic role in assisting to protect the future of several World Heritage sites in today’s world with changing climate. Responsible mountain gorilla tourism is very important for financing conservation programs as well as assisting the neighbouring local communities. With Sustainable national park management plus maintainable tourism programs, these can make sure that mountain gorillas remain the number one tourist attraction in the whole of East Africa even for the future generations. This has greatly increased the survival of mountain gorillas in east Africa and Congo.