It is finally official that gorilla trekking and other wildlife safaris in Uganda and Rwanda are back on track following the reopening of the airports and national parks for tourism in both countries. Uganda is the latest country to announce the reopening of the airports for normal flights with effect from 1 October and declaring the resumption of tourist activities in all the country’s national parks. Rwanda had earlier announced the reopening of Kigali International Airport on 1 August and reopened all her national parks for tourism. The two countries had closed all national parks and airports in March to control the spread of Covid-19 and therefore bringing all tourism activities to a sudden standstill.
Tourists to follow standard operating procedures on their safaris
In addition to being cleared at the airports and borders of both countries after presentation of valid negative test results of Covid-19, tourists will be required to follow the measures set by health officials while enjoying their safaris including gorilla trekking. These include observing social distance, staying in designated hotels, traveling in small groups, hand-sanitizing and undergoing temperature checks at park entrances, among others.
Gorilla and primates’ health prioritized
One of the major reasons why tourism in primate parks was delayed a bit more than other tourist destinations in Uganda and Rwanda was to protect primates especially gorillas and chimpanzees who share about 98% of the human DNA from contracting Covid-19. The close relationship between humans and these primates makes them highly susceptible to human viruses including the novel Coronavirus. In order to safeguard the primates, tourists will be required to maintain the established distance between themselves and the animals of about 7 to 8 meters and to avoid other bad practices like littering, spitting or sneezing around their habitat to avoid exposing them to Covid-19.
Trekking mountain gorillas in the Virunga Mountains post Covid-19 lockdown
Of all the tourist destinations and activities that have been reopened in Uganda and Rwanda, it is gorilla trekking in the Virunga Mountains that has caused more excitement among travelers. The Virunga Mountains which straddle borders of 3 countries protect mountain gorillas of Uganda, Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Apart from Virunga National Park of DRC which has not yet opened for gorilla safaris, all the other three mountain gorilla national parks in the area can be visited for gorilla trekking. These include Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda.
Both Uganda and Rwanda have maintained their original prices for a gorilla trekking permit set before outbreak of the pandemic at $700 and $1,500 per person respectively for foreign tourists. The time allowed to spend in the presence of mountain gorillas of one hour also remained the same despite suggestions to reduce it as measure to minimize exposure of the animals to Covid-19.
How have mountain gorillas coped during the Covid-19 lockdown?
The pandemic and the resulting lockdown did not only affect humans especially those in the tourism and travel industry but also the gorillas. In June, there were some unfortunate news about the killing of a silverback gorilla “Rafiki” in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park by poachers. This unfortunate incident was partly blamed on the imposed lockdown that weakened the patrolling system of the animals hence leaving them exposed to poachers.
On the positive side however, still in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, up to 5 baby gorillas were born in the park during lockdown while one other baby was born in Mgahinga Gorilla National park in the same period. This great news caused huge excitement among the tourism community worldwide especially among gorilla lovers who now have a chance to go and meet these new comers with their moms in their natural habitat.