Gorilla Tourism Conserves Gorillas and Livelihoods

Gorillas are remarkable. They bring awe when we reach their jungle homes.

Gorillas haven’t had the easiest of lives. Through poaching and civil wars, gorillas have needed to survive and recent conservation and tourism efforts are now reaping the rewards.

Gorillas are gentle giants and display many human-like behaviours and emotions, such as laughter and sadness. Gorillas even share 98.3% of their genetic code with humans, they are our closest cousins after chimpanzees & bonobos. The largest of the great apes, gorillas are stocky animals with broad chests and shoulders, enlarged, human-like hands, and small eyes set into hairless faces.

There are two gorilla species and live in equatorial Africa, separated by about 560 miles of Congo Basin forest. Each species of gorilla has a lowland & upland subspecies, with the Lowland Gorilla comprising of the Eastern Lowland Gorilla and Western Lowland Gorilla.


MOUNTAIN GORILLA
Population 1,063

Where do they live?

Mountain gorillas only live in one small part of the world – the afromontane forest habitat that straddles the shared borders of Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Afromontane forest occurs at high altitude in mountainous terrain, usually in deep, steep-sided valleys and gorges. Mountain gorillas are found in Virunga National Park, DRC; Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda; Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, Uganda and Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda.


EASTERN LOWLAND GORILLA
Population UNKNOWN

Where do they live?

The eastern lowland gorilla makes its home in lowland tropical rainforests in the eastern DRC. In the last 50 years, its range has decreased from 8,100 square miles—about the size of the state of Massachusetts— to about 4,600 square miles today. This subspecies may now occupy only 13% of its historical range. There were nearly 17,000 eastern lowland gorillas in the mid-1990s but scientists estimate that the population has declined by more than 50% since then.


WESTERN LOWLAND GORILLA
Population UNKNOWN

Where do they live?

The western lowland gorilla is the most numerous and widespread of all gorilla subspecies. Populations can be found in Cameroon, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Equatorial Guinea as well as in large areas in Gabon and the Republic of Congo. The exact number of western lowland gorillas is not known because they inhabit some of the most dense and remote rainforests in Africa.


WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE?

There’s a number of differences between the two gorilla species of Lowland and Mountain Gorillas;

LOWLAND GORILLA

  • Found in tropical lowland forest areas and prefer a more heavily forested, flatter habitat
  • Shorter and softer fur
  • Studies of lowland gorillas have shown that scent communication doesn’t play as large a role
  • Can weigh up to 140 kg
  • Their upright standing height is 1.6 metres
  • Up to 22 different gorilla vocalisations

MOUNTAIN GORILLA

  • Found on rocky slopes of dormant volcanoes and cloud forests. Can only survive in high altitudes
  • Their fur is longer and shaggier
  • When stressed or upset, males emit a strong odour from glands under their arms
  • Can weigh up to 180 kg
  • Their upright standing height is 1.7 metres
  • 25 distinct vocalisations are recognised

POACHING, HUNTING AND TRADE

Like humans, gorillas reproduce slowly, giving birth to only one baby at a time and then raising that infant for several years before giving birth again. This slow reproduction rate makes gorillas especially vulnerable to any population declines.

Habitat destruction is a problem across their central African range. Gorillas are also killed for the bushmeat trade, or accidently killed or maimed by iron snares that are set in the forests in search for other bushmeat species such as pigs (red river hog). That trade has helped spread the Ebola virus, which is deadly to both gorillas and humans. Efforts to protect gorillas are often hampered by weak law enforcement, lack of rule of law, and civil unrest in many places where gorillas live.

The commercial trade in bushmeat, which occurs throughout west and central Africa, is the biggest threat to gorillas today. Apes are being killed primarily to supply high-end demand for meat in urban centres, where the consumption of ape meat is considered to be prestigious amongst the wealthy elite. Although gorillas may constitute only a small proportion of all animals killed for the bushmeat trade, they present easy targets for hunters, and in many areas gorillas are favoured by hunters because of the weight of meat they can sell.

Gorillas’ low reproductive rates means that even low levels of hunting can cause a population decline, which could take many generations to be reversed.

DISEASE

Ebola hemorrhagic fever is a severe, infectious, often fatal disease that has devastated many African great ape populations. Scientists in 2003 estimated that a third of the wild gorilla population had been killed by the Ebola virus, and the species remain at risk. Additionally, because gorillas share so many traits with humans, they are susceptible to other human diseases. Populations of gorillas that are in frequent contact with humans are particularly vulnerable to deadly respiratory infections. In mountain gorilla range, where gorillas frequently raid farms or come in contact with humans through tourism, they are susceptible to scabies, TB, and a host of other diseases from human transmission.

WEAK LAW ENFORCEMENT

Both the killing of gorillas and trade in gorilla products are illegal across the animals’ range, but due to weaknesses in law enforcement capacity and broader governance issues in some of the regions where the gorillas live, poachers, traders, and consumers are rarely apprehended.

CONSERVATION

Success for gorillas has been a slow process, but thankfully today we can say that Mountain Gorilla populations have risen to over 1,000 in the wild. Population figures for the Lowland Gorilla species is much more difficult due to the terrain and less visited areas that these gorillas inhabit.

There are many initiatives which contribute towards the protection of gorillas, ranging from; employment of rangers, educational outreach, community involvement and even coffee for gorillas.

Here’s a select few fantastic initiatives we love;

The International Gorilla Conservation Programme is a unique coalition of international conservation organizations joining forces with national and local partners to ensure the long-term survival of the now endangered mountain gorillas.

The Gorilla Organisation work to save gorillas from extinction. Their projects have carried on through civil war, famine and natural disasters. The Gorilla Organization was founded in the early 1990s to support the anti-poaching patrols created by the pioneering primatologist Dr. Dian Fossey.

Gorilla Conservation Coffee is a social enterprise of Conservation Through Public Health, an award-winning NGO and non profit. Gorilla Conservation Coffee pays a premium price to help coffee farmers living next door to the gorillas around Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda. Supporting local farmers helps to protect the endangered gorillas and their fragile habitat.

SUSTAINABLE TOURISM

A major driving factor in increased, better protection of gorillas, has been the development of sustainable tourism. As advocates for conservation and avoiding over-tourism, nothing more represents what we stand for, than gorilla tourism, where conservation of the species is combined with equality and benefits for local communities through tourism revenue, employment and initiatives.

Here’s just a small selection of examples where sustainable tourism is working for gorillas and people;

VIRUNGA LODGE (RWANDA) one of Africa’s most loved lodges, is perched high on a ridge with the finest views in Africa, overlooking the Virunga Volcanoes and the Musanze valley to the west and Lake Bulera and Ruhondo to the east. The owners (Volcanoes Safaris) run the Volcanoes Safaris Partnership Trust (VSPT).

Established in 2009, is a non-profit organisation that connects Volcanoes’ Rwanda and Uganda luxury lodges to the neighbouring communities and conservation activities. The VSPT receives funding through Volcanoes Safaris, which contributes $100 from safari bookings, as well as private donations by our guests and others. The VSPT aims to create long-term, self-sustaining projects that enrich the livelihoods of local communities, promote the conservation of the great apes, restore natural habitats and work with communities and institutions to reduce human-wildlife conflict. As part of their stay at Volcanoes Lodges, guests get an opportunity to visit VSPT projects and to share the lives of the local communities.

MAHOGANY SPRINGS LODGE (UGANDA) is the perfect base from which to begin your Gorilla Tracking or Bird watching adventures. The Gorillas have been known to the visit the lodge and coming face to face with one of these peaceful creatures is an incredible experience.

Ride4aWoman is a local community project that Mahogany Springs supports heavily. It is a project that was setup to provide local widows with the ability to provide for their family. They are taught skills and provided with sewing machines plus other facilities to assist them in earning an income. The headquarters for this project is very local to Mahogany Springs and clients are able to visit if they wish. Mahogany Springs contracts Ride4aWoman to do lots of work for the property (curtains, mosquito nets, clothing, cushions, lampshades and much more).

BISATE LODGE (RWANDA) perches dramatically on the edge of Volcanoes National Park in north-west Rwanda – one of the most thrilling safari destinations in Africa. Where primatologist Dian Fossey ran her research station, Karisoke, dedicated to saving mountain gorillas from extinction.

Bisate’s vision of reforestation and rehabilitation means that each guest contributes to biodiversity conservation and local community upliftment – making a far-reaching positive impact on an iconic endangered species: the mountain gorilla. Through Bisate’s partnership with the surrounding community, including the purchase of the Bisate site from 103 community members and injecting $500 000 into the community, over 200 people from the local community were employed for the property’s construction while another 24 community members are permanently employed at Bisate. A community cooperative has been formed for equitable procurement of fresh produce and other goods from land adjacent to the site.

Travel and be part of positive change

Visit Western Lowland Gorillas in Republic of Congo, or view Mountain Gorillas in Rwanda or Uganda. A range of budget & luxury options are available.

Contact us today using the below contact form or email us here

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🦍 Gorilla Tourism Conserves Gorillas and Livelihoods … via @bettersafaris #safari #travel #africa


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