GORILLA TOURISM BENEFITS THE CONSERVATION OF THE RARE EASTERN LOWLAND GRAUER’S GORILLAS, THEIR HABITAT AND THE LOCAL COMMUNITIES
Since its beginnings, gorilla tourism in the Kahuzi-Biega National Park has benefitted the area by bringing in revenue from the Park entry fee. This is the key source of income for the park management and is used for salaries, maintenance of vehicles, buildings, equipment etc. Without this revenue, it becomes very difficult to protect the Park and the gorillas. Gorilla tourism also generates business for local community enterprises. If the local communities can be demonstrably taught the benefits brought to them by having the gorillas in the Park, this will give them a strong motivation to make every effort to protect them.
For this reason, gorilla tourism is an essential part of our conservation strategy and we need to promote it in a sustainable way, whilst educating both visitors and local inhabitants alike.
THE LAUNCH OF ‘THE SILVERBACK KINGDOM’ BY THE POLE POLE FOUNDATION
As well as projects concerning education, afforestation, job training, livestock breeding etc, the Pole Pole Foundation launched a gorilla tourism project called ‘The Silverback Kingdom’ in January 2010. The objectives of this project are to promote gorilla tourism, create employment and provide opportunities for interaction between local people and visitors. Pole Pole Foundation staff will greet visitors at the entry point, guide them to the hotel of their choice, and to the Kahuzi-Biega National Park, too.
We can organise some recreational and study visits to learn more about the local communities. After the gorilla visit in the Park, tourists can pay a visit to POPOF's agroforestry school in Miti, and have interaction with the pupils there. Visitors can also plant trees together with pupils at the school nursery, which will be a wonderful experience.
Visitors can enjoy local foods and dance with traditional dancers. They can visit former poachers who have received training from POPOF and are now working as artisan wood carvers in the village of Miti.
The income from the ‘Silverback Kingdom’ project will be used as a vital fund for other POPOF projects. Visiting the Eastern Lowland Grauer’s Gorillas will contribute to the future conservation and sustainable development of the area.
The silverback Cimanuka’s group started with just two members in 2002. Since then he has grown his group with members he has attracted from interactions with other groups.
As of May 2011, he was the leader of a group of 37 members, made up of 17 adult females, 19 young and himself. Since that time, the Cimanuka group has faced interactions with neighbouring groups led by the silverbacks Mankato, Mpungwe and his own son, Bonane. Cimanuka group has now lost 15 members. At the time of writing (2017), Cimanuka’s group now has a total of 22 members. A female called Mwinja (Beauty) has remained in the group as the alpha and only female. Other members of the group are Cimanuka himself, black backs, and all juveniles and babies are males. This is the first case of seeing the number of males to be higher than the number of females in a habituated group in the highland sector of the Kahuzi-Biega National Park.
Muguaruka’s story. When Mugaruka was three years old in 1990, he lost his right hand because he got it caught in a poacher’s snare. The injury didn’t seem to bother him much and he managed to form his own group of 17 individuals until 2006. Since then, he has lost many battles of strength in his interactions with Cimanuka, who has eventually taken over all the members of his group. Mugaruka currently lives as a solitary silverback.
HOW WE TRACK THE GORILLAS
From the Tshivanga Station of the Park, you will be accompanied by a guide and his team of trackers. You will move to the nearest entry point to the forest by vehicle. The Eastern Lowland Grauer’s Gorillas in the Highland Sector of the Kahuzi-Biega National Park like to range from an altitude of 2,000m (the secondary forest) up to 2,600m (the bamboo forest).
The location of the gorillas depends on the foods available to them at different times of year in the different forests. From mid-October to the end of August, the tracking time can vary between 20 minutes and 2 hours. From the end of August to the middle of October, it can take 3 hours or even longer to find the gorillas. Whatever the time of year, they can always be reached.
In the secondary forest where they range most of the year, the ground is bushy and you might only see just a few members of the group, even though other members will be nearby in the undergrowth.
But you might just get lucky and see most of the group members in a clearing. You just never know. To minimise human impact, we can watch the gorillas for one hour only.
RULES FOR GORILLA VISITING
There are some important and strict rules to protect the gorillas from human impact during gorilla tracking visits.
-Anyone under the age of 15 is not allowed to visit the gorillas.
- Anyone with a contagious disease, such as a cold, ‘flu or diarrhoea is not allowed to visit the gorillas.
- Minimize noise and speak quietly when in the area.
- Always walk and stay with your group.
- Keep a distance of 7 meters between you and the gorillas.
- Do not point fingers at the gorillas.
- No flash photography.
- If you have to sneeze or cough, turn away from the gorillas and cover your mouth and nose.
- Do not run when a gorilla comes close to you. Carefully follow the instructions of your guide.
- Do not leave any rubbish in the forest.
- There is no toilet in the forest. Use the toilet before your trip, but if you have to go in the forest, human faeces must be buried in a deep hole. Follow the instructions of your guide.
*At the time of writing, the Park entrance fee for gorilla tracking is US$ 400 per person per day.
You can check the latest information of the official site of Kahuzi-Biega National Park.
For further information about a visit to the gorillas, please click HERE to contact us.