Thursday, 30 January 2014

Are Gorilla Trekking Rules Strict Enough? - Guest Blog by The Gorilla Organization

It is with great pleasure that I am able to share with you my first guest blog from the fantastic Gorilla Organization. Please have a read and then either leave a comment below or take the conversation to Twitter or Facebook.

Are Gorilla Trekking Rules Strict Enough?

Over recent years wildlife authorities across Eastern and Central Africa have been in debate about making surgical respirator masks compulsory for tourists visiting the great apes. Due to the close genetic link between gorillas and humans, the risk of primates catching diseases such as the influenza virus is extremely high. Hence, introducing the N95 respirator masks, which catch bacteria coming from the wearer’s mouth and nose, could help minimize the transmittance of airborne disease and improve the protection of the critically-endangered gorillas.

Although, the N95’s have not yet been made compulsory in all three countries where gorilla tourism is offered, the Gorilla Organization’s African staff are constantly encouraging the use of the respirators to visitors and staff members to ensure the health and survival of our beautiful cousins, and, on their regular excursions into the forests of the Virunga Mountains, they always lead by example.

The debate has become particularly heated now that gorilla tourism has gone from being a niche activity for an intrepid few to being on the top of many people's travel 'bucket lists'. Indeed, trekking gorillas in Africa sounds like the perfect trip to anyone who is looking for an adventurous, unique and undeniably breath taking holiday; whether the journey goes to the DR Congo, Uganda or Rwanda, gorilla tourism is currently at hype among western travellers.

Although, the local authorities are not particularly strict on enforcing N95 masks, there are some precautions that tourists as well as rangers have to follow when entering the gorilla’s natural habitat. These include:

  • The 7-metre rule prohibits visitors from getting in immediate contact with gorillas. Unfortunately, this is not always preventable as infant gorillas especially are very curious and like to explore and mingle with tourists and rangers.

  • Tourist group sizes cannot exceed more then 8 people, due to the possibility of human-disease transmission and causing stress to gorillas by increased noise levels or pictures being taken (which is generally allowed without flash). Thus, the time spent on site is strictly limited to a maximum of 1 hour per tour.

  • Each tourist is permitted to carry a bottle of water, a first aid kid and a camera, though not a specialist video camera without a special permit. Foods need to be eaten before getting in contact with gorillas and smoking is strictly prohibited throughout the entire tour.  

Though great ape tourism comes with numerous regulations and, some would say, appears to be of some risk to the primates, it is of great significance as it helps fund a range of conservation and local community projects. Funds that are being raised from sold gorilla permits, which cost up to 500 USD per visitor, pay the wages of rangers, most of whom are recruited form local communities, and fund initiatives aimed at educating farmers and reformed poachers on issues such as poaching and habitat loss. These are all concerns that the Gorilla Organization shares, as poaching and habitat loss are still the most common threats primates face.

This is why the Gorilla Organization’s staff members educate local farmers on organic sustainable agriculture, with the purpose of teaching individuals on how to grow foods to support their families. Simultaneously this also prevents locals from searching aliments in the forests, which aids to the protection of gorillas natural habitat.

Written by Sharon Legae - Communications Assistant for the Gorilla Organization.

Macfie, E., and Wiliamson, E. (2010) Best Practical Guideline for Great Ape Tourism.
The Gorilla Organization has worked to save the world's last remaining gorillas in the wild from extinction, carrying on through genocide, natural disasters and war.