Gorilla tourism and communities around Bwindi impenetrable forest.
Bwindi impenetrable National Park covers a large area in southwestern Uganda and is shared amongst districts of Kabale, Kisoro and Kanungu. It is home to over 400 individuals of mountain gorillas which is almost half the number of gorillas in the whole world.
Before Bwindi Impenetrable forest was gazzatted as a national park, the local people and communities in kisoro, kabale and kanungu used to directly benefit from the forest by collecting firewood, harnessing honey, hunting forest elephants, monkeys among others. They would also collect herbs and medicine to cure malaria and other sickness. Practically the local community looked at Bwindi impenetrable forest as their own and they thought they had a right over that forest.
In 1991 the government of Uganda through Uganda Wildlife Authority decided to gazette Bwindi Impenetrable forest into a national park. This meant that the local communities of kabala, kisoro and Kanungu lost their mandate to the government of Uganda in as far as direct utilization of the forest was concerned. This did not go well in with some sections of the community as one old man lamented that “when God was creating this world, He made sure that he provided a resource to the local communities in each region. That in central Uganda, God gave them Lake Victoria as a resource to sustain them by providing water, fish and recreation and so for that matter, the people of Kabale, Kanungu and kisoro were given Bwindi Forest as source of survival interms of firewood, medicine, hunting and honey harnessing. That go and tell your government that what they are doing is not right.” There was a question of the Batwa people who for thousands of million years were staying in this forest and had looked at it as their home. When it was gazzatted, they were forced out of the forest at their own will.
Having looked at the above, the question is, do the communities benefit more from gorilla tracking than they used to do before? When Uganda Wildlife authority took over the forest, it started emplying the local communities as rangers and guides hence helping them to indirectly benefit from the forest instead of cutting it down. As the moto of Uganda Wildlife Authority says “Conserving for generations”, they started giving a chance to all youth especially school going youth to work as porters for gorilla trekkers in order to raise some school fees and money to buy books. This is seen as a direct benefit to the young generation who are the future of this country.
There was an element of revenue sharing where a certain percentage of park entrance fees paid by tourists is given back to the communities living closer to Bwindi impenetrable National Park to develop roads, hospitals and other infrastructure which were not there when gorilla tracking tourism had not started. Indeed the communities are benefiting from this than never before.
Many community businesses have sprung up around Bwindi Impenetrable National Park due to gorilla tracking business. Camp sites such as Buhoma community Bandas, craft shops and so many small business around buhoma, ruhija and in the southern part of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is a testimony that gorilla tourism has been indeed a revelation in as far as community development due to gorilla tourism is concerned.