How can humans and wildlife coexist and share this world? I think about this often. In countries throughout the world, an increasing number of programs are gaining awareness, while working towards answering this question. Responsible travel is moving more towards the forefront of tourism priorities. Rwanda is among those establishing a strong preservation of their iconic wildlife.
Rwandans are constantly working to live in sustainable harmony with their environment. Rwanda has put forth a solution through tourism, leading the way in mountain gorilla conservation since 1970. Their commitment to protecting their iconic mountain gorillas and wildlife has set a new standard, and laid the groundwork for other countries to follow.
In the Beginning
While touring groups in Volcanoes National Park to view mountain gorillas have been documented since 1955, it was not until 1979 that Virunga’s first official mountain gorilla tourism program was launched with the aid of the African Wildlife Foundation, World Wild Fund for Nature and Fauna and Flora International. This paved the way for decades of conservation and global awareness of the Mountain Gorilla’s plight.
Mountain gorillas used to rival for shrinking habitats, become unfortunate victims of trap hunting, food sources, cowardly trophy hunts, and targets for unsustainable money-making from poaching. No longer. Now they are an established conserved species due to tourism and related social and research projects.
Funding Conservation, Health Centers, Schools and more
In 2018, $19.2 million USD in revenue was generated from gorilla trekking permits alone. These funds are distributed throughout local governments and used towards gorilla habitat preservation and expansion. Ten percent of this revenue goes directly to building local schools, health centers and roads. This program also provides local jobs for rangers, trackers, porters, and tourism operations.
The revenue from gorilla trekking permits and activities directly contributes to the rehabilitation of this species. Funds are used to purchase land from locals to expand the mountain gorilla territory. This economic success incentivizes local governments and people to protect the mountain gorillas.
On the heels of this success, In 2005, the annual ceremony of Kwitza Izina was created to name a newborn gorillas. This tradition has been practiced for human newborns for centuries. Since 2005, Kwitiza Izina has celebrated over 280 baby mountain gorilla births. This is an incredible victory in the name of wildlife conservation. Each ceremony is filled with music, dancing and celebrations of the Gorilla conservation program. Officials and researchers also meet to discuss existing and future challenges as their program continues to evolve forward.
All solutions present new challenges
This is the same for gorilla trekking. Humans remain the threat to these endangered mountain gorillas. Not inly in habitat conflict, but in health. As we share approximately 98% of our DNA with gorillas, diseases from humans can easily transmit to gorillas. During a trek, there is an established seven meter distance trekkers must stay from gorillas or safety and for mountain gorilla health. Even with this, you are in the middle of a wild jungle as gorillas go about their day. It is not always possible to maintain those seven meters when mountain gorillas are wandering all around you.
The largest threat to all wildlife is human expansion. Human population continues to soar with resounding effects and habitats, climate and resources. As our population grows, human habitats needs grow as well. As needed, we cut down forests, fence in open plains, and pave over wild habitats that wildlife rely on. This is not sustainable.
Onward Towards Change
All challenges have a solution, no matter how daunting or massive them seem. Through education, understanding and persistent relentless action, we can work together to protect our wildlife and wilderness. The time for waiting for others to make change is over. We must become hands-on ourselves to make positive change.
The mountain gorilla trekking program of Rwanda showcases a proven example of a peaceful coexistence of both human and wildlife. With each evolution of the program, mountain gorillas continue to thrive and recover. The experience leaves you inspired and fulfilled. An experience that you can confidently say you contributed to the conservation of this incredible species.
Thank you for reading. Please always continue researching the linked sources and your own independent findings. The more we learn collectively, the great change we can make.
For future travelers to Rwanda, view and download our Rwanda Travel Packing List.