The Mountain Gorilla dilemma.
The BBC recently published an article titled “The Dark Side of Uganda’s gorilla tourism industry”. As the title suggests, it’s all about the recurrent dilemma of human populations coming into conflict with endangered wildlife species. The article is available here http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-37034248
The gist of the article is that the mountain gorillas and specific human communities, and in this instance it’s the Batwa Pygmies, both wish to occupy the same land area in the Virunga Mountains. The dilemma is that the two can’t co-exists so one party has to move, and you can’t move gorillas. So the Batwa were relocated.
It’s a really tricky problem to resolve and I can see both sides of this particular argument. I don’t think that the provocative and inflammatory language used in the article helps the situation. I do think that a responsibility exists for the authorities who moved the Batwa to ensure that their lives may continue harmoniously. Requiring traditional forest-dwellers to live in an urban environment isn’t harmonious.
Mountain gorilla conservation has been one of Africa’s conservation success stories. A significant driver supporting the conservation is the fee paid to the park authorities for each visit, currently $600 a pop. That’s a lot of money. As a tour operator who regularly sends visitors to Uganda to visit the mountain gorillas I have been assured that a percentage filtres down to the local people, so that they too benefit from mountain gorilla visitors. After all, they are the ones who have made way for the gorillas and agreed to leave specific tracts of land for their use.
I’m wary or the “a percentage” reference. In my experience, when it comes to money, you need to be specific. What percentage? Can it be audited? How is this elusive percentage being spent?
There’s very little a small UK tour operator can do to successfully communicate with the Uganda government, national park conservation bodies, the Frankfurt Zoological Society and other mountain gorilla stakeholders. But Venture Co is a long-standing member of Responsible Travel (RT) and collectively we (the members) are able to do something. One of the guiding lights of sustainable tourism is Prof Harold Goodwin http://haroldgoodwin.info/ And here’s a note from the folk at RT:
“… we’re actually going to be partnering with Prof. Harold Goodwin on a project which aims to help resolve some of the issues here – to ensure that local communities, the Batwa in particular, can benefit from gorilla tourism.
Harold has been out in Uganda for the past couple of weeks and we will then be working with him on possible tourism solutions …”.
Watch this space! And well done to RT for taking this initiative.