Conservationists say the growth of eco-tourism could help save Africa’s critically endangered mountain gorillas from extinction.
There are just 700 of the animals left on the planet, all of them living in the volcanic mountains spanning Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Decades of conflict in the region, along with poaching and human encroachment on their habitat have threatened their survival.
But money from ‘gorilla tourism’ has helped Rwanda reverse the trend of the shrinking population, with a small increase in mountain gorillas over the past five years.
The money is funding work to protect their forest habitat and anti-poaching patrols.
Kwizera Diogene a gorilla guide said there is need for visitors because it is their money that helps to save the gorillas.
An employed woman to make souvenirs for gorilla tourists said that
Rwanda is successfully conducting a delicate balancing act – restricting the number of visitors to ensure the gorillas are not disturbed but letting enough in to fund their protection.
Each group of gorillas is visited for just one hour a day by a maximum of eight tourists and thegorilla trekking cost USD.500
Comments from Sky news treker,
“The gorillas are very curious and don’t seem to mind visitors, Deep in the forest we found a group of 20 silverbacks, with one huge male lounging on his side with a young gorilla clambering over him. He glanced at us, grunted, and then went back to munching a piece of tree bark.”
“Coming face to face with the gorillas is a remarkable experience, In their eyes you sense some kind of recognition, and some of the young males were so curious they wandered over to get a close look at us, brushing past our legs.” He added.
Sky’s Emma Hurd talking to two former gorilla poachers
“It was amazing to get so close,” said American tourist Carol Hart. “It cost a lot of money but it was worth it.”
Gorilla tourism is worth £3m a year to Rwanda and has created thousands of jobs.
Even former poachers like Anastase Gasaga now recognise the animals are worth more alive than dead.
“I make money helping the foreigners see the gorillas, so I don’t need to poach anymore,” he said.