30 years of Mountain Gorilla tourism in Uganda

Tracking mountain gorillas in the Virunga is a peerless wildlife experience

Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT |  The history of gorilla trekking in Uganda tracks back to the early 1990s when the country was experiencing its first years of stability after close to three decades that were marked by unrest and military coups. Until now, the world has a vague image of what the state of Uganda is like because of its dark past.

With a dark past popularly known as the reign of Idi Amin; some people outside Uganda still assume that the country is going through the same unrest until now. This is often made worse with news headlines that spill over the internet whenever terrorism threats are made.

However, for anyone that has visited Uganda, they can attest to the fact that the country is relatively peaceful. Many people can spend more than a year without hearing a single gunshot in their community. Kids still play in their neighborhood without fear for kidnaps.

On top of the peace that the country currently enjoys, the road network has also improved. In the recently published report by the world bank about roads in East Africa; Uganda ranked ahead of all her neighbors. There has been a major improvement in the road network of Uganda. But many Ugandans feel like little has been done about the road network due to the many potholes in Uganda’s capital; Kampala.

However, besides the voices that are mainly inspired by Kampala potholes; it is actually possible to visit all the major towns in Uganda by road. On top of that, it is possible to visit all national parks in Uganda all year long.

Gorilla Trekking in Mgahinga National Park

Mountain gorilla tracking is inevitably the most popular tourism activity in the Virunga conservation area though there are quite many other attractions in the area. Gorilla tourism has been developed in these three parks; Virunga national park, Volcanoes National Park and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park for more than fifty years. Unfortunately, due to the civil war in the Democratic republic of Congo, Virunga national park is often not open for gorilla trekking.

Road network to Gorilla site in Uganda improving

The Ugandan side of the Virunga conservation area that is well known as Mgahinga Gorilla National Park was opened in 1991. In the same year, the habituation of the Nyakagezi family commenced taking up to three years. In 1994, the family was opened up to touristic visits.

However, for over two decades, the Nyakagezi family was fond of shifting to Volcanoes national park. This immensely affected gorilla tourism in Mgahinga national park since it posed higher possibilities of not finding the gorillas in Mgahinga national park.

The narrative has changed in the recent past of more than 7 years without the Nyakagezi family shifting to Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park. However, regardless of the Nyakagezi family being a permanent resident in Mgahinga national park, the park still suffers the negative press from its past.

Mgahinga national park will be celebrating 3o years of gorilla trekking next year. But besides Mgahinga; Uganda has one more gorilla trekking location that is actually celebrating 30 years of gorilla trekking this year; Bwindi impenetrable national park.

Gorilla Trekking in Bwindi impenetrable National Park

The popular Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in south western Uganda is managed by the Uganda Wildlife Authority. The park is protected under the several national laws of the 1995 Constitution; the Uganda Wildlife Act Cap 200 of 2000, National Environment Act (2000), The Local Act (1997), Local Government Act (1997) and more.

At the time of its designation as a national park, the park was managed by the Uganda National Parks Department.

Bwindi is a model for integration of community sustainable resource management in the East African region. There is huge success in involving local communities in the development of tourism. Today the local communities embrace tourism and the lives of the local communities have been greatly improved.

Initiatives such as conservation through public health have become conservation model benchmarks internationally earning Ugandan conservation personalities such as Kalema Zikusooka international recognition.

The story of gorilla conservation in Bwindi impenetrable national park goes back to as early as 1991 when Bwindi Forests were officially designated the status of a national park in Uganda. Two years later, the country recorded its first gorilla trekking trip in 1993 in the Buhoma sector.

A decade later after the opening of Buhoma sector for gorilla trekking, another sector of Bwindi impenetrable national park well known as Nkuringo sector was opened for gorilla trekking. Again, close to a decade later, two sectors of Bwindi impenetrable national park well known as Ruhija and Rushaga were opened up to tourists.

As of today, they are over 20 habituated gorilla families in Bwindi. As more people get to know about the memorable gorilla trekking experience in Uganda, the opening of more gorilla trekking centers has provided a broader opportunity for more people to encounter the mountain gorillas in their natural habitat.

Conservation through gorilla trekking has seen the population of the mountain gorillas that was below 650 more than two decades ago pass the 1000 population mark. Based on the recent baby boom in Bwindi impenetrable national park and Volcanoes national park, the gorilla population is believed to have surpassed the 1100 population mark. However, it is important to note that this is merely an estimate since there has not been any census for the last 4 years.

The celebration of 30 years of gorilla trekking is a remarkable milestone. It has not come without challenges but many of them have actually been used as stepping stops to make the conservation efforts even better. Among these include the limited man power, over booking and limited resources as it was raised in the 2023 Gorilla Tourism Audit report by Uganda wildlife Authority (UWA).

With plans to improve the road network in Uganda national parks, Bwindi impenetrable national park expects to revise the gorilla trekking permit fees from $700 per foreign none resident permit to $1000 per foreign none resident permit. However, the actual time of revision has not yet been communicated.

In essence of the 30 years celebrations of gorilla trekking, it would actually be a good idea to go gorilla trekking in Uganda before the prices are revised. Contacting companies that a listed by the Uganda Tourism Board will save you from gorilla trekking scams in Uganda.

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