Through the end of the twentieth century, mountain gorillas were critically endangered. Thanks to the concerted efforts of African conservationists, their population has slowly increased over the past few decades and they were upgraded to “endangered” in 2008.
Mountain gorilla trekking plays an enormous role in ensuring this positive trend continues.
Travelers set out to find a mountain gorilla family in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda. Photo credit: Jason Houston for USAID
A Natural Life for Mountain Gorillas
Trekking permits prevent stress on mountain gorillas by limiting the number of humans moving through the parks, strictly regulating interactions with mountain gorillas, and prohibiting visits to mountain gorillas that feel threatened by humans. These policies create an environment where mountain gorillas can carry out their lives in a way that is natural for them.
Protecting the health and welfare of these animals is the number-one priority. To prevent the spread of respiratory diseases from humans to mountain gorillas, a number of rules are in place. As of early 2022, visitors must test negative for COVID-19, have no symptoms of contagious illness, wear an approved mask during viewing, and keep 10 meters (32 feet) away from the gorillas at all times.
David Agenya, head ranger at the Buhoma Headquarters of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, meets with travelers before their gorilla trek. Photo credit: Jason Houston for USAID
Contributions to Science
Gorilla trek guides provide important information for conservation, including population numbers and observations about gorilla behavior. They report concerns about gorilla health to wildlife veterinarians, who can provide treatment if necessary.
The presence of tourists and wildlife workers discourages poaching, illegal logging, and other activities that would harm mountain gorillas and other threatened species in the parks.
Tourism money enhances this effect. When tourists spend money in local communities, they help the economic desperation that can lead to habitat and wildlife destruction. A portion of park fees pays for community projects to improve education, income, healthcare, and other crucial resources in the surrounding area. Additional money comes in the form of employment at lodges and other venues visited by tourists.
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Volcanoes National Park, and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park would not exist as the thriving ecosystems they are today without the income from mountain gorilla trekking. Permit fees pay for park staffing, management, and infrastructure—protecting the land and, therefore, the mountain gorillas who make it their home.