One final hurdle remained before the MGP could move forward. We needed ORTPN to approve the details of the tourism program. Dismas Nsabimana had surprised everyone in the preceding months with his opposition to any tourism program centered on the gorillas. It was widely suspected that his changed position resulted from a bribe by Dian. But he defended his stance on the laudable grounds that the gorillas should not be disturbed. With half of the gorilla population dead and the announcement of the cattle project, however such arguments were meaningless. Nsabiman’s views were rendered moot when he was abruptly replaced by Benda Lema as director of ORTPN.
Benda Lema was a short, balding man with piercing eyes and a predilection for fine suits. He had no back ground related to conservation or tourism unless one counted his degree in economics from Patrice Lumumba University in the Soviet Union. It was rumored that his surname, Lema, was short for Lenin Marx. If Benda Lema had any Marxist tendencies, however they didn’t emerge in our discussions of gorilla based tourism. His only questions concerned how much money could be made from the gorillas. The questions were certainly relevant to ORTPN, which needed to generate revenue to cover its costs. They were also central to Benda Lema’s ability to make the case against the Virunga cattle project, which was still pending within agriculture.
We offered Benda Lema the best possible answers to help his cause without promising results that we could not deliver. Here we occupied very shaky ground, though as we had no experience at all with the market for this new kind of tourism. As tourists ourselves in East African parks, we felt that park entry fees as low as $2 grossly undervalued wildlife and wildness. In Rwanda, we had seen fourteen hundred tourists most of whom were resident expatriates visit the Parc des Volcans in 1978, each paying only $5 for a seven day pass. We knew the market could bear a much higher price especially if we could guarantee a view of gorillas. But how large was the market and what price would it pay? Needing an answer, we put our “opposition research” to good effect if five thousand cattle were projected to bring in $70, 0000, we would claim that three thousand tourists would pay $ 25 each for a total of $75,000.To up the ante, we stated our conviction that more people were sure to come and pay even higher prices if the program were well run. Benda Lema did not seem moved by the need for quality control, but he was dazzled by the numbers. There are that many people interested in the gorilla?
Yes, we assured him, there were thousands of crazy white people out there who would pay a lot of money to hike through the cold rain and steep terrain to sit with wild gorillas. The director laughed at the notion .Beaucoup d’abazungus fous? Yes, that much we could vouch for the world was full of crazy white people