Why gorilla safaris are so popular among travellers
Over the past few decades, gorilla safaris especially in Uganda and Rwanda have become the travelers’ favorite wildlife experience and consequently gorilla trekking has gone on to become the highest tourism foreign exchange earner for both countries.
About mountain gorillas
There are just over 1000 mountain gorillas in the world which are exclusively found in Uganda, Rwanda, and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) where they live in two separate gazeted locations. The Virunga Mountains or Virunga Massif is the largest protected area for mountain gorillas and it straddles the borders of all the 3 countries with 3 gorilla national parks each located in a different country. These parks include Virunga National Park in DR Congo, Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda and they all together protect about 600 mountain gorillas. Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in southwest Uganda is the second home for mountain gorillas protecting about 450 individuals. Only those gorillas that have been made used to the presence of humans through the habituation process can be visited in these parks. Bwindi has got the highest number of habituated gorilla groups with about 15 of them, Volcanoes has 10, Virunga has 8 while Mgahinga has only 1 habituated gorilla group
Why gorilla trekking has become so popular among travelers
The nature and status of mountain gorillas
Until recently (2018), mountain gorillas were classified as critically endangered species but the steady increase in their population over the past four decades encouraged the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)to reclassify them to the endangered category. Since mountain gorillas were feared to be at the brink of extinction in the past, this compelled many travelers to book gorilla safaris to see these great apes before their population is completely depleted. Secondly, mountain gorillas share about 98% of the human DNA and this makes them closely related to us and this is evidently depicted in their social life. Like humans, gorillas also live in social groups which are the families of those that are related to each other and each family has a leader who is the alpha male known as the silverback. The silverback leads his family in daily activities including movements looking for food and offering security while adult females take care of their infants. Gorillas exhibit many other human-like behaviors including g constructing shelter for resting at night, mourning and burying their dead, among others.
Absence of mountain gorillas in other parts of the world
Since mountain gorillas are exclusively found in Uganda, Rwanda, and DRC, the need to see them keeps travelers visiting this part of the world. Mountain gorillas are one of the four gorilla subspecies belonging to larger eastern gorilla group which has another subspecies of the eastern lowland gorilla which is found in lowland forests of eastern DRC. The other species of gorillas is the western gorilla which has also got two subspecies including the western lowland gorilla and the cross-river gorilla. The western gorilla species are found in west Africa lowland forests in countries like Gabon, and Equatorial Guinea while the cross-river gorillas are found near the border of Nigeria and Cameroon along the Cross river.
Gorilla conservation efforts
Both conservation organizations and governments through wildlife authorities have intensified gorilla conservation efforts in order to protect these great apes from their life-threatening challenges especially poaching. Conservation organizations like the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund which protects gorilla in Rwanda and DR Congo have concentrated all their resources on gorilla protection through working hand in hand with governments to offer protection, research, veterinary, and patrolling services for animals. They have also engaged communities living near gorilla habitat by employing them and training them in other occupations in order to control poaching. All this has contributed to increase in mountain gorilla population since they are allowed to thrive in their natural habitat hence boosting gorilla tourism.
Promotion of gorilla tourism by wildlife authorities
Governments through tourism authorities especially in Rwanda and have intensified tourism promotion campaigns to attract more tourists from across the world to visit and see their tourism potentials like mountain gorillas. The Visit Rwanda campaign has seen the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) partner with international agencies including Premier League giants Arsenal Football to promote the Rwanda tourism sector through a sponsorship deal. Such rigorous promotional campaigns have greatly contributed by attracting many tourists many of whom opt for gorilla safaris.
Influence of Dian Fossey
Dian Fossey was an American primatologist who started the incredible work of protecting mountain gorillas in 1960s when she ventured into studying these species in the montane forests of the Virunga Mountains. Fossey made gorillas very popular through her published book “Gorillas in the mist,” in which she wrote about her experience of living with gentle giants in the wild. The book was later used to inspire a film under the same title which made many people around the world get attracted to gorillas even the more. Fossey’s incredible work also inspired governments and conservation organizations to take on the gorilla protection work she had initiated after shed had been murdered by poachers in 1985.
The political stability in areas around gorilla habitats
Unlike in the past where areas near the gorilla habitats in all the 3 countries were inaccessible due to political instability, today such places are as calm as anywhere else especially in Uganda and Rwanda. Indeed, there is a big difference between the number of visitors going to DRC’s Virunga National Park where instability has persisted and that visiting Uganda and Rwanda.
The ease of combining gorilla trekking with other safaris
In both Uganda and Rwanda, gorilla trekking trips are combined with other tours including game viewing, bird watching, cultural and historical tours, among others. This is because of the close proximity of the gorilla trekking destinations and other national parks which protect a variety of wildlife species hence giving travelers a chance to enjoy multiple experiences in a single safari package. A typical Uganda or Rwanda itinerary enables a traveler to enjoy wildlife, adventure and cultural experiences within a 4-5 day safari and this is helped by the good transport network with good roads and sometimes both air and water means can also be used where necessary.
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