One of the important things any responsible traveler should know before going on safari is to understand where their money goes and whether it will reach the local communities!
Communities living adjacent to protected areas tend to suffer more because the natural resource allocation is given over to tourism. This scenario was introduced in the 1970s and led to failure of many projects.
Twenty years ago, Uganda decided to develop its tourism following the guidelines of ecotourism, a form of tourism that is pro-poor and community engagement. Gorilla Tracking tourist activities in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga Gorilla National park generate critical revenue for conservation and development.
However one problem remains; Is gorilla tourism pro poor?
Though there are still some complaints that arise from the eviction of the Batwa from the gorilla forests without compensation, it was indeed called for given that it would add complications in the protection of endangered gorilla species in the area. If any who visited Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in the 1990s returned for a visit today, they would be surprised by how the local communities have changed. Different projects have taken off and the local community is realising the benefits of gorilla tourism, one of the major activities that has opened up this remote area to the world.
Several infrastructural developments have taken place in the local community including schools, hospitals, better roads that facilitate trade between the different localities etc. Hotels and lodges have also been built in the area, great projects that have created jobs to members of the local community.
Gorilla tourism has the ability to improve community livelihoods and conservation. IGCP observed that “A project that is pro-poor is strategic and relevant for developing the poor rural areas. Gorilla tourism has indeed proved to be a sustainable tool in promoting pro poor and responsible tourism.
Community Based Organisations
There are several Community Based Organisations (CBOs) that have developed several tourism initiatives such as souvenir shops, tour companies, forex bureaus etc.
The Local Community Projects have had fantastic support from international organisations such as IGCP, there are also several community based experiences that have been developed to raise funds for the local communities such as the Batwa Experience in Mgahinga National Park, the Buniga Forest Walk that is run by the Batwa. The locals also work as guides for tourists as well as porters – great ways to also tap into those tourist dollars.
Volunteering and Exchanges
Some tourists who go for gorilla safaris participate in life changing projects such as volunteering at schools, hospitals, construction projects etc. One of the forefront examples is the Bwindi Community Hospital, that started as a clinic under a tree but with support from tourists, volunteers and proceedings from gorilla tourism it has become the best health-care facility in the region.
With such benefits, the locals are encouraged to support the conservation of the mountain gorillas, something that was not easily realised in the 1970s. Prospective tourists to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park are advised not to just stay within the lodges after their hike, but to participate in community tours so that more benefits can be realised to the local communities that live adjacent to the parks.
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