Gorilla Tourism: A Transformative Force Fueling Uganda Development
Yesterday the outgoing Uganda Minister of Tourism Wildlife & Antiquities, Prof. Ephrahim Kamuntu, unveiled the mountain gorilla populations in the Greater Virunga Conservation Area by declaring the long-awaited global number of the endangered species between Rwanda, DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo), and Uganda. This was after the release of the December 2018 Census results released at the Kampala Serena International Conference Centre.
Emceed by UWA (Uganda Wildlife Authority ) Public Relations Officer, Gessa Simplicious, the unveiling was presented in collaboration with the Greater Virunga Transboundary and Bwindi-Sarambwe ecosystem revealing that the number of gorillas (gorilla beringei) in the 340-square-kilometer boundary of protected forest to have increased to 459 in 50 groups and 13 individuals up from an estimated 400 in 2011.
Combined with the published results of the Virunga Mastiff 2015/16 survey of 604, the global figure stands at 1,063. The findings put to rest speculation on gorilla numbers pitting Uganda at 51% of the total population and the remaining 49% shared between the 3 countries.
This is the fifth count for this area and the first to include Sarambwe Nature Reserve since surveys began in the 1970s.
Preceding the honorable minister’s announcement, the Warden of the Ecological Monitoring and Research Bwindi Mgahinga Conservation Area (BMCA), Joseph Arinitwe, said the process started from the eastern end of the forest to the Sarambwe Nature Reserve in the west.
It involved more than 75 trained survey members in 6 teams in 250 to 500-meter stretches with the support of local governments and communities living around the protected areas. They moved at standard intervals at agreed times in shifts of 2 weeks each collecting elephants, duikers, and gorillas fecal matter from fresh nests whereby samples were collected and preserved for genetic analysis. Additional publications are expected from the survey. Signs of human activity were also studied. The team persevered through challenging rugged terrain, floods, twigs, and insect bites.
Arinitwe emphasized the importance of surveys in monitoring trends and to prove that conservation strategies are working.
Representing the Board of Trustees for the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), Dr. Pantaleon Kasoma reiterated the value of the income generated from the gorillas, noting that there are other conservation areas in the country that do not generate income that are sustained by revenue from gorillas.
Tourism State Minister Honorable Suubi Kiwanda thanked the outgoing minister for his effort to turn around Human Wildlife Conflict into Human Wildlife Relationship having traversed the country to sensitize communities surrounding the National Parks and Wildlife corridors as well as revenue sharing.
Outgoing Minister’s Last Words
In what could be deemed as his last speech before revealing the census results, Professor Kamuntu spared a moment to welcome the incoming Tourism Minister Hon. Tom Butime. Also in attendance were Japanese Ambassador to Uganda Kazuaki Kameda; Tourism State Minister Suubi Kiwanda; Permanent Secretary MTWA Doreen Katusime; Director of Tourism Mr. James Lutalo; Dr. Andrew Seguya, Executive Secretary at Greater Virunga Transboundary Collaboration; Dr. Gladys Kalema, Conservation Through Public Health (CTPH); Executive Director UWA, Sam Mawanda; Director of Business Services UWA, Stephen Masaba; Professor Robert Bitariho of Mbarara University; and ITFC (Institute of Tropical Forest Conservation) Jonathan Ainebyona PRO – Association of Uganda Tour Operators(AUTO) and a host of other scientists and researchers.