How Ecotourism is Helping to Save Rwanda’s Gorillas

With only 3 destinations in the world for travelers to see mountain gorillas, there are a million reasons why you should visit the Jungles of Africa for a holiday. As others get puzzled with choice of destinations for their next safari holidays in Africa, you can simply sit down and relax because Rwanda the land of countless misty hills is there for you to catch a glimpse of wild mountain gorillas. With a 3rd of world’s remaining mountain gorillas that are all protected in the jungles of Volcanoes National Park, the choice lies in your hands either to achieve your dream now or to postpone it bearing in mind that others have achieved theirs time and again. A face to face encounter with the world’s critically endangered primates in the wild is the most thrilling experience that you must not miss out in Northwestern, Rwanda.

These spectacular primates are highly at a risk of extinction in the world today and humans have proved to be the major threat to their lives. Humans have continuously negatively impacted on Rwanda mountain gorilla conservation through poaching and encroachment that is why Ecotourism is of significant value today as it is one of the criteria to help to conserve these endangered species in the wild. Ecotourism par say is sustainable kind of tourism that focuses mainly on experiencing exotic areas; stimulate environmental and cultural understanding, consciousness and conservation.

In Rwanda, Ecotourism has become the most popular conservation measure that has been geared towards protection of mountain gorillas and their habitats. Below are some of the ways in which Ecotourism is promoting mountain gorilla conservation in Rwanda Volcanoes National Park.

First, Rwanda Volcanoes National Park is currently a home to ten (10) habituated gorilla families and all these are set for Ecotourism reasons. Undoubtedly, gorilla trekking is rated as the most remarkable, inspiring and above all the most sought after experience not only in Rwanda but also in Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo. In order to help balance the demands of tourists and gorilla conservation in the park, a maximum of 8 (eight) visitors are assigned to only one gorilla family per day to track mountain gorillas. The park principles further offers travelers only 1 (one) hour to have a face to face encounter with these dramatic creatures in the wild. Through this, Rwanda is able to ensure sustainable travel and at the end, it helps to save the primates. There is no doubt that a gorilla trekking safari to this East African country is worth the price even though the time is limited because the magical hour spent with the gorillas is enough to give you a picture of how these great apes live in thick forests.

Most importantly, there are also set rules and regulations for gorilla trekking in Volcanoes National Park. These rules and regulations are always explained to tourists before they are set off by park management to trek mountain gorillas. Many of these rules and regulations are basically the Do’s and Don’ts and they include; Not to litter in the gorilla habitat, not to shout in the jungle, not to smoke, drink or eat next to mountain gorillas, don’t take photos with flash cameras, a distance of 7 meters must be observed from mountain gorillas, don’t touch mountain gorillas, incase you ease yourself make sure you dig a pit and cover it afterwards, while coughing or sneezing you are supposed to cover your mouth, if you have flu or cough you may not be permitted to track mountain gorillas and many other rules and regulations that will be briefed to you early in the morning by the park management at the visitor centre.

Besides, the park management encourages investors to establish eco friendly facilities and there are numerous Eco-Lodges and Resorts in and around Rwanda Volcanoes National Park for nature enthusiasts to spend their night. These accommodation facilities are made up of environmentally friendly materials for example volcanic stones, bamboo and wood which matches with nature. Among the notable Eco lodges around Volcanoes National Park are; Virunga Lodge, Mountain Gorilla View Lodge, Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge and Le Bambou Gorilla Lodge and others.

Through Ecotourism, communities are sensitized and educated on the benefits that mountain gorilla tourism. By so doing, the local communities are able to realize the main source of 10% revenue sharing. Other visible benefits for the community also come from the Kwita Izina a popular gorilla naming ceremony in Rwanda as well as Rwanda Development Board and Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund where 12 classrooms have been set up at Gatebe Primary School. In 2015, the Kwita Izina gorilla naming ceremony also set Bisate Learning Centre in Musanze and this accommodates more than 2300 students. There are also other schools around Volcanoes National Park that are supported using ecotourism revenues. The local communities benefit from healthcare centers and piped water and all these come from mountain gorilla tourism and conservation. This year, Rwanda is holding its 13th (1st September, 2017) Kwita Izina ceremony and there are two more local community projects and one health centre to be launched. At this ceremony, thousands of Rwanda residents, dignitaries as well as foreign visitors are expected to flock for this tremendous conservation event in Rwanda. All these efforts are meant to create awareness to the local community about the value of conserving mountain gorillas and in a long run encourage them to support the park efforts to conserve them in the wild.

Mountain gorilla conservation was initiated by Dian Fossey in 1963 at a time when she traveled to Africa for her 18 year research and later camped in her Karisoke research center in Rwanda Volcanoes National Park in 1967. She tirelessly fought against poaching which is still the main threat to mountain gorillas. She sensitized the local community about the value of mountain gorillas till she was killed in 1985 mysteriously while protecting the gorillas. By this time, the Rwanda government and other governments had not yet realized Dian Fossey’s endeavors to save mountain gorillas but at least extremity of the mountain gorillas had been lifted. Through the Rwanda Development Board and Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund gorilla project, protection of mountain gorillas was supported and Ecotourism measures too were supported that generated more impacts and mountain gorilla population has been on steady increase since 2000 not only in Rwanda but across the world. As you plan for your safari to Volcanoes National Park, you can also contribute towards Dian Fossey gorilla project.

More still, the former poachers have been recruited in various tourism fields like eco lodges and others are now employees in the Volcanoes National Park. Many of the porters and park rangers that you might have met around the park were once poachers but today they have joined the park management to fight against poaching and ensuring that mountain gorillas are saved from the hands of the hunters. Since they are now the main beneficiaries, they can not again return to illegal hunting acts and this is helping in saving the lives of Rwanda mountain gorillas.

There are cultural groups at the park that perform traditional dances, local music and drama before tourists and after they get paid and this has helped them to earn a living. They also sell agricultural products to the lodges around and all these measures have assisted in ensuring mountain gorilla protection among community members by appreciating the value of not encroaching on gorilla habitat. Iby’iwacu cultural village is where tourists experience authentic Rwanda culture. This group also has a goat project and visitors donate $25 to $50 to buy a goat for former poachers’ families and this has equally helped to save the mountain gorillas in Volcanoes National Park.

In conclusion, Ecotourism is one of the long term conservation measures that help in saving the mountain gorillas from extinction especially if is dully embraced by all stakeholders. Through Ecotourism, mountain gorillas and their habitat are kept undisturbed and tourists are able to benefit from authentic experiences. Enjoy your exotic experiences with Rwanda mountain gorillas and you won’t regret in life!

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