Hello! Today we bring you the third and final part of the feature written by Canadian travel writer, Johanna Read on her experience to the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda to track mountain gorillas and her meeting with the local Batwa community. Enjoy…
Mountain gorillas help protect Uganda
Gorillas and other tourist attractions are not competitors for resources but should be a means of improving the lives of the people who live near them. The survival of rare animals like gorillas depends on the well-being of their human neighbours. Ensuring that tourism benefits local communities is essential for a sustainable tourism industry.
People who are not economically self-sufficient inadvertently put gorillas — and tourism — at risk. For example, they cause further parkland deforestation because they need firewood and land for subsistence farming. Requiring protein, some turn to poaching and their snares intended for antelope can injure gorillas. When people face poverty, difficulty accessing clean water and education, and have little ability to improve their means, they can become resentful of tourism. Tourists — and governments — who care about gorillas will ensure that citizens are not disenfranchised.
Fees for Uganda’s popular gorilla treks not only help fund other national parks, but 20% of the $600 gorilla permit goes directly to local communities, funding essential services likes schools and health clinics.
Uganda’s gorillas also provide employment in a region where there are few other jobs. Bwindi National Park employs over 300 people directly. The 50 staff at remote Ruhija station where I trekked include park rangers, trackers, and police officers. Tourists can also hire porters to carry their bags, and even to help push and pull them through Bwindi’s rough terrain. Hotels provide local jobs and artisans create products for tourists to buy.
The areas near gorilla-trekking have a particularly vulnerable group. The Batwa people (pejoratively called Pygmies) were displaced from the forests when the national parks to protect gorillas were created. Traditional hunter-gatherers, some Batwa were able to find land and become subsistence farmers. Others have not and rely on community supports. Separation from their traditional ways of life has led to inequality with other citizens and to social and economic problems.
NGOs like the United Organisation for Batwa Development in Uganda work toward improving the lives of the Batwa. Tourists can help.
After my gorilla trek, I meet Paulson and Ruth from Ruhija Community Cultural Walk With A Batwa. Via Paulson and other ambassadors, we learn about Batwa history, heritage, and traditional practices. Our fee provides needed funds to the community, and our presence and interest help preserve and protect Batwa cultural heritage — key components to achieving equality and economic self-sufficiency. Tourism should always benefit local communities.
Derrick, a Ugandan I meet in Bwindi, tells me “Uganda is blessed with more than nature. We have 52 different tribes too.” Tourism is essential for protecting all of these national treasures.
Johanna Read is a Canadian freelance writer and photographer specializing in travel, food, and responsible tourism. Writing for a variety of Canadian and international publications, she likes to encourage travel that is culturally, economically, and environmentally sustainable. Links to all her travel stories are at www.TravelEater.net.