The first time for tourists to be wearing masks in the KBNP and a revival of gorilla tourism

Tourists wearing masks while viewing the gorillas

Now as a common park regulation that was set recently in the home range countries of gorillas, tourists visiting the gorillas in the Kahuzi-Biega are recommended to wear masks while watching the gorillas. The Mountain Gorillas Veterinary Project (MGVP) in collaboration with the KBNP authorities brought lots of masks, which are worn by tourists and gorilla tracker teams everyday. It is a great initiative to prevent a disease transmission between gorillas and humans.

If we look at the history of Kahuzi-Biega National Park, tourists started to visit the gorillas in early 1970’s. At first two gorilla groups, Casimir and Mushamuka, were habituated to the human presence by Adrien Deschryver with his two efficient trackers, Pilipili and Mishebere Patrice. In the early days of gorilla tourism the Park regulations on the gorilla visits were not strict. For instance, a group of visitors could consist of more than 30 people to visit the gorillas! And while taking still photographs, tourists could use a flashlight as they like. In early 1990’s the regulations were changed and the number of tourists visiting one gorilla group was reduced to 8 people for a day. The use of a flashlight was banned. A sick person wasn’t allowed to get any access to the gorillas. All these rules were introduced to minimize the human impact on gorillas.

The number of tourists in the Kahuzi-Biega National Park increased to 3,000 tourists a year in 1988-1990 thanks to the well-known film “Gorillas in the Mist”. But it shrunk in the mid-1990’s due to the devastating wars in the Great Lakes region. Between 1994 and 2005, only about five visitors visited the gorillas in the KBNP while the most population of gorillas and other wildlife were hunted by gun and consumed as bush meat by several different armed factions. It was the most difficult time for the park and the surrounding communities because the income generated by the tourism is supposed to be the resource of park management and rural development, which was reduced to almost none.

But little by little, the tourism started to revive in the KBNP in 2007. The number of tourists increased from 20 visitors in 2006 to 200 visitors in 2009 and it seems that the number will continue to grow more in this year 2010. Although there is still a long way to go we began to see a glimpse of hope for the future.

While the conservation effort to protect the gorillas still continues, the POPOF launched the Silveback Kingdom Trekking Agency (SKTA) early this year. We took tourists to Orchid Safaris Hotel in Bukavu for some nights and drove them to the Park. After they viewed the gorillas in the forest they visited some communities around the park. They could visit a tea plantation, tea factory or quinine tree plantation (a medicinal plant against malaria). We could also take them to a catholic monastery where they shared their picnic. They made a city tour and could buy some woodcarvings made by former poachers who were converted into artisans through one of the POPOF projects.

Tourists buying masks

All the income generated by this SKTA activity is used as a resource fund for the POPOF’s important activities.

If you are interested in visiting the gorillas and our community, please contact us by CLICKING HERE.

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