How tourism can help save gorillas

In a world where the population is increasing by about 82 million people per year, areas of true wilderness on the planet are few and far between. As the human population multiplies, wildlife habitats of all types are under pressure from a range of threats including agriculture, industrial expansion, poaching, climate change, and human-borne diseases.

In countries throughout Africa, gorillas are bearing the brunt of these immense pressures. Though their numbers have increased slightly in recent years, (representing a rare conservation success story), mountain gorillas, in particular, are critically endangered thanks to limited habitat, intense human encroachment, and potential diseases, according to The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International website.

With only about 1,000 individuals remaining they are one of the world’s most endangered animals. What's more, mountain gorillas are the only wild ape population whose numbers are known to be on the rise. Other gorilla populations, by contrast, are plummeting.

Over the past 20 years, the numbers of Grauer’s gorillas in Congo, for instance, has shrunk by 77 percent and they are now considered to be one of the 25 most endangered primates in the world, The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International reported in 2018.

September 24 is World Gorilla Day, an annual event kicked-off in 2017 with the goal of celebrating gorillas and empowering communities around the globe to take action to help fight for the survival of mankind’s closest relative.

While there are numerous organizations and individuals dedicated to this effort, the fact is that continuing to raise awareness and investment about the plight of gorillas remains essential.

Importantly, there are ways that you, the global traveler, can take part in the preservation effort. Ecotourism has emerged as an indispensable part of the future of gorillas. It's something nearly all of us can engage in, said Nick Wilson, head of product for Natural World Safaris.

By visiting the handful of areas in Africa where gorillas continue to exist and purchasing gorilla tracking permits, you are helping fund an increase in gorilla populations, Wilson explained. When you hire a porter for your trek or buy goods from local communities, you are helping locals earn an honest living while simultaneously proving to the people who live in gorilla range states – from heads of state to rural farmers – that gorillas are worth more alive than dead.

“Without the support and cooperation of the men and women who share their country with gorillas, these great apes will be doomed to extinction,” explained Wilson, whose own company has a long history of sending clients on transformative gorilla tracking expeditions throughout Africa.

"We need to recognize that the greatest value of wildlife conservation is any incentive an animal’s existence might provide to surrounding communities," continued Wilson. "There is no conservation without respecting human rights, and any conservation action which does not care about human rights is another form of extractive industry."

Stacy Fiorentinos, president of Classic Escapes, another tour company that specializes in African safaris focused on conservation, offers a similar assessment of the critical importance of tourism-related gorilla treks.

“Part of the reason gorillas are so protected now is that locals are realizing the value of the gorilla,” said Fiorentinos. “They were almost extinct and now numbers are rising and it’s because of the protection they get from local communities that are seeing and realizing the value of saving them.”

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