Gorilla Tourism in Uganda
According to the gorilla census report of 2011, there are only 880 mountain gorillas left in the whole world. Half of this population is found in Bwindi Impenetrable National park located in southwestern Uganda. The rest of the population is found in the Virunga mass of volcanoes mountains shared by Rwanda (Volcanoes National Park), Uganda (Mgahinga National Park), and Democratic Republic of Congo (Virunga National Park).
Gorilla trekking safaris in Uganda is primarily taking place in the Mgahinga Gorilla National Park and Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and represents one of the main destinations for wildlife tourism in the country. Estimations of the national and community level economic impacts in Uganda, based on a full capacity of 8760 tourists per year and expenditures of US Dollars 874 were calculated to present the direct impacts, the indirect (secondary support activities) and induced (increased spending among local beneficiaries). Currently, only small shares of the impacts are benefiting the communities at the sites.
Mountain gorilla tracking is one of Uganda’s important conservation fund-raising tool and contributes to 80 percent of the overall budget of Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), thus 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.
The Uganda mountain Gorillas 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. The World Wildlife Fund has recently estimated that each gorilla brings in One Million US Dollars in revenue each year for Uganda.
Today, Gorilla tourism is the major foreign exchange fetcher of Uganda – this is so because Bwindi Impenetrable forest and Mgahinga National Park are the most visited parks according to Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA). This is the body responsible for all National Parks and wildlife reserves in Uganda. They have their main headquarters in at Kamwokya in the suburbs of Kampala city.
The body (Uganda Wildlife Authority) is responsible for issuing gorilla trekking permits from its headquarters in Kampala. A gorilla permit acts as permission to join the trek in search of mountain gorillas, and the number available per day is limited because the number of people visiting each gorilla group is limited to only 8 persons per day for each gorilla family. Gorillas live in families and each family is headed by the Male Silverback. Uganda currently has about 15 habituated gorilla groups, Bwindi Impenetrable forest has about 14 groups which include; Mubare, Habinyanja, Rushegura, Oruzogo, Kyaguriro, Bitukura, Nshongo, Nkuringo, Mishaya, Kahungye, Businjye, Bikingi, and Bushabo. Mgahinga National park has only one gorilla family known as Nyakagezi. However, this group is unpredictable because it some times crosses the international border to Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is now 3 years ever since Nyakagezi returned to Maghinga National Park in Uganda. The fact that gorilla permits are on high demand, whoever is interested is advised to book in advance through your travel agents or tour operators.
Gorilla Tourism in Rwanda
Like in Uganda, gorilla tourism is Rwanda’s leading foreign exchanger earner! The majority of the tourists to Rwanda come to see the endangered mountain gorillas in Volcanoes National Park, located in the northern part of the country, about 2 hours drive from Kanombe International Airport (KGL).
Rwanda is a small country, the gorilla tourism industry is growing at a very fast rate mainly because of 3 reasons alongside other factors according to Mr. Paul Basudde, a tour consultant from African Jungle Adventures. In his views, Destination Rwanda is more preferred than Destination Uganda for mountain gorillas tracking because;
Driving Distance to the Park
Driving from Kigali City or International Airport to Volcanoes national park in Rwanda takes less than 2 hours drive, compared to over 9 hours drive from Entebbe International Airport / Kampala capital to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest or Mgahinga National park in Uganda.
To cut the long-distance short, some tourists fly to Rwanda Kigali Airport and connect to Southern Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda through Cyanika or Gatuna boarders. This takes less than 4 hours’ drive excluding border formalities.
Hiking and Visibility
Travelers who have tracked gorillas in both countries reveal that gorilla trekking in Volcanoes National Park Rwanda is less strenuous compared to Bwindi Impenetrable forest. Additionally, the fact that Uganda gorillas are found in the Impenetrable forest, visibility in Bwindi Forest is not as good as in Volcanoes national park. Rwanda gorillas are found in the Bambou forest, visibility of good and one can take clear photos.
Rwanda does vigorous marketing and the destination is much popular. Though Rwanda gorilla permits are expensive at US$750, still more people buy them.
There are about 10 gorilla groups in Volcanoes national park habituated fully for tourism purposes in Rwanda and these include; Susa, Hirwa, Kwitonda, Uganda, Karisimbi, Umubano, Sabyinyo, Ntambara, Group 13 and Amahoro.
More gorilla groups are being habituated in Uganda and Rwanda, therefore, do not be surprised to find the number of groups increased in years to come.
Whoever plans to take a gorilla trekking tour in Rwanda should posses a gorilla permit in advance through your Travel Agent / Tour Operators. Gorilla permits are managed by Rwanda Development Board at their main Headquarters in Kigali.
Gorilla Tourism in the Democratic Republic of Congo
The country has different species of gorillas that include; The Western Lowland Gorillas, Eastern Lowland Gorillas, and the mountain gorillas in the magnificent Virunga National Park. However, gorilla tourism in the Democratic Republic of Congo is not developed due to political unrest in the area to an extent that sometimes the parks are completely closed for tourism purposes. Currently, the parks are open for tourism but still very few tourists going there due to the poor image of the country. People think they risk their lives of they go in DR Congo gorilla trekking and other tourism activities such as Mountain Nyiragongo hiking and Low Land gorilla tracking.