Mountain gorillas are one of the most powerful subspecies of the gorillas which are confined in only two limited range of habitats; virunga mountain ranges which covers Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Uganda and Bwindi impenetrable forest in Uganda. These primates have a very small population of 880 individuals which has also just increased due to concerted efforts in conserving them.
Mountain gorillas only live in the montane areas with an altitude of 15000 meters above sea level and that is the reason why these gorillas only live in Virunga Mountain ranges and Bwindi impenetrable Forest national park.
By the 1970, the mountain gorilla population was threated to almost extinction due to majorly human activity, which led them to be listed as endangered specie by the international union for conservation of nature.
Mountain gorillas are very important in eco system as they help in the balancing on nature which in turn help the human around as well as other wildlife in the forest due to co-existence of the wildlife.
Eco tourism therefore has helped very much in the protection of the mountain gorillas from their threats which was affecting the ecosystem and threatening wildlife in the mountain gorilla habitats.
The major threat to mountain gorillas was poaching where the mountain gorillas were killed for medicine and their feet sold out to make ash trays. The young mountain gorillas used to be captured for export to the western zoos. For one young gorilla to be captured, there has to be death of over five adult gorillas which will be trying to protect the young one from captivity.
The other threat to mountain gorillas is encroachment to the gorilla habitat. Due to the surge in population, there is too much pressure on the forest in search of firewood, poles for building as well as encroachment on land for settlement. This affects the gorilla lives as it leads to limited food for their survival.
Illnesses are also a great factor affecting the gorillas. Gorillas are susceptible to human diseases such as flu, cold, and other human virus. This affects the gorillas so much as they are not easily identified for treatment like it is for humans.
Political instabilities in the Virunga region were a big threat to the mountain gorillas as the rebels were living in their habitat. In Virunga National park, many gorillas lost their lives and the gorilla population almost came to extinction.
Mountain gorilla conservation was first spearheaded by Dian Fossey in 1963 when she came to Africa and later settled in Volcanoes National park in 1967 after establishing Karisoke research center. Fossey put up a spirited fight against the poachers who were a major threat to the gorillas. She made effort in sensitizing the community about the importance of mountain gorillas until she was killed in 1985 allegedly by the poachers she was trying to protect.
By the time of her death, the governments had not fully embraced her efforts of mountain gorilla conservation, but the plight of the mountain gorillas had been lifted. Through the project Gorilla Fund, conservation of gorillas was embraced and eco tourism measures embraced which has yielded more results and the gorilla population has since been on the steady rise since 2000.
The governments improved conservation by encouraging tourists to come for gorilla tracking. This helps in foreign exchange earnings through the sale of gorilla tracking permits. The revenue generated from the sale of the permits help in improving the infrastructure, paying the park staff who help in conservation, compensating the community around the park area to dissuade them from encroaching on the mountain gorilla habitat.
The poachers who used to be a threat to the gorillas got alternative source of livelihood through sensitization and realizing the importance of gorilla tourism. Hospitals, Schools, and compensation was made and this improved their mindset concerning gorilla conservation.
Due to increased number of tourists coming for gorilla safaris in Africa, there are many accommodation facilities and shops that were established around the park. These offer employment opportunities to the neighboring local population and thus, help them in coexisting well with the mountain gorillas. In addition, there are porters at the park headquarters who help escort the tourists as they go on gorilla tracking and these were mainly people who used to poach the gorillas. The income they generate from tourists has helped keep them away from poaching the gorillas.
Around the park, there are cultural groups who perform the traditional cultural dances before the guests and these are paid some money which sustain them. This, coupled with sale of the agricultural products to the tourists lodges has helped in mountain gorilla conservation by appreciating the importance of not encroaching on mountain gorilla habitat.
There are rules and regulation that are followed during gorilla tracking. Some of those regulations are aimed at protecting the gorillas from contracting human diseases which is a major threat. Diseases such as flu, cold, diarrhea are restricted and trackers with such diseases will not be allowed on gorilla tracking. A maximum of one hour is also allowed in presence of the gorillas and a seven meters distance allowed to be closer to the gorillas is important for ensuring the gorillas are safe from any disease contraction.
Responsible tourism development has therefore greatly help save the gorilla habitat majorly by creating avenue for alternative source of livelihood to the human beings, saving the gorilla habitat.