Rachel Dobb told us about the conservation efforts she experienced while studying in Africa in Nature Based Tourism part 1, Madagascar. In part two Rainbow Tours travel consultant Leila Kassam tells us about her upbringing in Uganda and the threats to the Gorilla population in the country. Both Leila and Rachel have worked with conservation organisations in Africa and believe that these projects are helping to make a real difference to species survival by creating jobs for local people in areas where work is hard to come by.
Leila Kassam on UGANDA
My father is Ugandan and I grew up and went to school there, so the well being of the wildlife is very close to my heart. I first went gorilla trekking in June 2012 in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and this was one of the highlights of my life so far. Mountain Gorillas are found in the Virunga Massif which spans three land borders – Uganda (Mt Gahinga National Park), Rwanda (Volcanoes National Park) and DRC (Virunga National Park) – as well as in Uganda’s Bwindi Forest in the Kigezi Highlands. Whilst the capture and poaching of gorillas for gruesome souvenirs or live animal trade has diminished recently, the threat from habitat destruction is now the greatest challenge – the Virungas and Kigezi highlands are some of the most densely populated human areas in Africa. The land is incredibly fertile and over the last century, what was once forest is now nearly all fields.
Mountain gorillas are a species that do not ‘bounce back’ easily. Their productive cycles take up to 4 years, and if an infant survives, it stays with its mother until the age of three. With such a small area of their natural habitat remaining, it’s impressive that their numbers have increased. The Uganda Wildlife authority recently announced that the number of gorillas has risen 10% in Bwindi from 786 in 2010 to over 880 in 2012.
This growth has been entirely due to conservation efforts funded by tourism. Through the sale of gorilla permits, gorilla racking in Uganda is responsible for bringing in around 80% of the annual budget of the Uganda Wildlife Authority. Gorilla tourism has created hundreds of jobs for local people – not only in the lodges where tourist stay, but also for trained Trackers and guides who take visitors into the mountains to seek out the gorillas. This employment has helped to ease the pressure on farming as the only means of support in the area.
Porters are also drawn from the surrounding communities, with a rotation system in place that allows local men and omen to be employed for the day. This distributes income as fairly as possible. Ex-poachers too have been given a second chance’ and now make a living as trackers, another positive change which brings hope to the gorillas future.