Despite the past misconceptions concerning tourism and conservation in Rwanda, the two have now been balanced and tourism compliments conservation and community development projects . It is a mystical and humbling experience spending an hour with the mountain gorillas in the wild; no single experience can be compared to mountain gorilla tourism. Presently, gorilla trekking tourism is the leading sector in Rwanda contributing over 60% of the country’s gross domestic product. With approximately 880 mountain gorillas in the whole world, Rwanda happens to have the second largest mountain gorilla population, after Bwindi national park. They are only three countries that have these rare species of mountain gorillas and the other two are Uganda in Bwindi impenetrable forest national park along side Mgahinga gorilla national park and then democratic republic of Congo in the virungas national park.
With 10 habituated mountain gorilla families in Volcanoes national park, at least 80 people can trek mountain gorillas in Rwanda on a daily basis. A single gorilla permit in Rwanda goes for 1500 USD, of which some of this revenue goes towards mountain gorilla conservation and research while some potion is ploughed back into the local communities neighboring the volcanoes national park. It should be noted that the lands neighboring the park borders are densely populated with high poverty levels. This income is very instrumental in general improvement
Presently, Rwanda a umber of initiatives have been put in place to ensure the co –existence of gorilla tourism and conservation and these include:
The Rwanda development board (RDB), a government body responsible for tourism and conservation in Rwanda does Monitoring and research in the national park. Research centers such as the karisoke help to educate communities on how to conserve the mountain gorillas and the benefits of conservation. This has developed a positive attitude of the local people towards conservation hence decreasing poaching and attracting back gorilla tourism and conservation.
Continuous monitoring by the national park rangers and other responsible bodies help to keep update of Rwanda’s gorilla families and population in the national park. This helps in allocating gorilla families to travelers and also provides information on the status and health of the rare species. Presently there are 10 habituated gorilla families in the volcanoes national park available for trekking hence promoting tourism in the area.
Due to the various threats such as loss of habitats, diseases and poaching, The Rwanda development body (RDB), has put in place laws to guide tourism in the national park. During the 1990’s civil wars in Rwanda, many people fled to the national park in search of refuge, which increased the spread of human wildlife diseases. People in search for food and sale killed more mountain gorillas putting tourism at a stand still.
Presently, people have been taught how to interact with the mountain gorillas at a distance hence conservation in the volcanoes national park.
Veterinary doctors and surgeons have been employed to treat ill and injured mountain gorillas as well as preventing them from catching human wildlife diseases.
These veterinary services were brought in due to the susceptibility of mountain gorillas to human diseases since the two are close relatives.
The mountain gorilla veterinary project (MGVP) help in supplying antibiotics and injections to the injured mountain gorillas for quick recovery.
Most importantly, the Rwanda development board (RDB) has focused much on improving the standards of the local communities. The densely populated local communities who depend entirely on agriculture for a livelihood surround volcanoes national park and had always encroached the park for land.
The Rwanda development board has introduced the community conservation program in the national park were part of the revenue earned from tourism is given back to the local people. This sharing of the benefits has helped to balance the needs of the local people while conserving wildlife for the future.
Water tanks, schools and other developments have been put in place to support local people. For example local people no longer walk o the forest to collect water, which has improved their health and standards of living.
In conclusion, there are only 3 destinations to visit gorillas in Africa – Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic republic of Congo who share boundaries have signed a memorandum of understanding. The trans boundary collaboration has been encouraged between the three countries and there are no physical boundaries. Mountain gorillas some times cross over to the neighboring countries. This has helped to promote tourism ad conservation in the virunga massif.
Rwanda is the best gorilla tourism destination in the whole world. The country has put I place the above initiatives and presently tourism, local communities and conservation co-exit harmoniously in the country.