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Saturday,July 04,2020 06:46 AM

Gorillas Endangered

By Vision Reporter

Added 4th March 2003 03:00 AM

THE coveted mountain gorillas at the Bwindi National Park, are facing new pressures, this time from the very people supposed to protect them.

THE coveted mountain gorillas at the Bwindi National Park, are facing new pressures, this time from the very people supposed to protect them.

By Gerald Tenywa
THE coveted mountain gorillas at the Bwindi National Park, are facing new pressures, this time from the very people supposed to protect them.

The Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) is allowing more tourists to track the primates than they (primates) can tolerate.

Investigations by The New Vision indicate that up to eight tourists track a group of habituated mountain gorillas instead of a maximum of six per day.

Experts say this exposes them to grave danger. “If not stopped, this could cause stress and expose the apes to infectious diseases,’’ says a source within the International Gorilla Conservation Programme.

Sources accuse UWA officials of violating the gorilla rules by issuing excess permits. Park officials do not stop the tourists from tracking once the group is beyond the six number limit.

UWA’s executive director Dr. Arthur Mugisha said he had received reports on the discrepancies in gorilla tourism recently.

“We have taken it seriously and investigations have began,’’ he said.

Bwindi’s chief warden John Makombo said they sometimes sent more gorilla trackers into the park. He said it was becoming a habit “for UWA’s officials in Kampala to send more trackers than we are supposed to handle per day.”

He said it was illegal. “We have complained several times, but the problem has not been addressed,’’ Makombo said.

Mugisha attributed the problem to human error, saying it occurs once in a while. “We don’t have computerised bookings and that is why there are errors,’’ he said.

He said there were delays in reacting to queries from the Bwindi warden because of the recent changes in UWA’s tourism department.

But sources within tour operators insist that the malpractice is not an error, saying UWA officials in quest for personal gains give the permits in excess.

“They get tips from desperate tourists and that is why they bend the rules,’’ said a tour operator.

IGCP experts say the excessive exploitation of apes puts them on pressure and could affect their behaviour. They also pointed out that the gorillas might become sick as they are susceptible to most human diseases.

The apes become used to people through a delicate and long process known as habituation. But in order to maintain their wild aspects and to protect them from catching disease, small groups should be allowed to view them.

“They have to let in only six people because we have to control the effects. The bigger the group the bigger the effects,’’ says a source within IGCP.

Gorilla tourism began in the early 1990s. It is the fastest growing form of tourism. By the end of last year, the apes were the hottest tourist attractions in Uganda.

The global population of gorillas now stands at about 670. They are only found in Uganda, DR Congo and Rwanda.

Bwindi harbours more than half of this population and the rest roam in Mgahinga (Uganda) and the Virunga mountains shared by Congo and Rwanda.

Until recently, Bwindi had only two groups of habituated gorillas. They can be reached via Buhoma, the park headquarters, and Kisoro.

One of the two groups, Habiyanja, split last year. It had two silver-backs (turn grey), which are dominant males.

Before the split, 12 permits per day for the two groups were officially being sold by UWA’s reservation’s office. But this has increased to 16 because four more permits are issued to view one of the groups created as a result of the split.

Most tourists find gorilla viewing exciting. They are allowed to view the gorillas for one hour and at a distance of not less than five meters.

UWA sells a permit at $275 to foreign tourists at its reservations office in Kampala.
East African residents pay $210 and Ugandans sh 80,000. Over 80% of the revenue generated by UWA comes from gorilla tracking, sources said.
Ends

Gorillas Endangered

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