The government of Rwanda, one of the three range countries for the Critically Endangered mountain gorilla, is making headlines for doubling the price to spend one hour with gorillas in Volcanoes National Park from $750 to $1,500.
While this has received some mixed reactions amongst the private sector and within the region, WWF and Fauna & Flora International, who collaborate on mountain gorilla conservation via the coalition International Gorilla Conservation Programme (IGCP), celebrate the move in order to manage a growing tourism sector within ecological limits.
“This decision is both brave and correct,” said Fauna & Flora International’s Chief Executive Mark Rose. “It shows the government’s concern and commitment to the proper management of Rwanda’s most valuable natural asset.”
Demand for this unique experience is high, while the number of mountain gorillas remains very low; fewer than 900 individuals exist in very restricted forests on the borders of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda, according to a joint WWF-FFI press release.
“Provided tourism figures for gorilla encounters remain high, this move is likely to benefit both gorillas and people,” said Anna Behm Masozera, Director of the International Gorilla Conservation Programme. “I hope, and in fact fully expect, international tourists will continue to travel to Rwanda and to the region to experience a moment in time with the mountain gorillas, free and wild in their native forests.”
The price change has been coupled with a decision to increase the percentage of total park revenue earmarked and used for conservation and development projects in neighbouring communities from 5 per cent to 10 per cent.
The Rwanda Development Board has informed stakeholders that the raise in permit price will also fund targeted investments over the long term to ensure a higher value experience for tourists, a safer environment for the gorillas, and exploration of innovative ways to expand habitat when and where it results in a clear win for both gorillas and people.
“When you consider the threats the population has endured over the years including war, hunting, habitat destruction and disease, it is encouraging that the mountain gorilla has not gone extinct. Placing a high premium on this unique experience and investing more in community conservation is a welcome move,” said Margaret Kinnaird, WWF Wildlife Practice Leader.
WWF and Fauna & Flora International said they understood that, irrespective of the permit fees increment, the current regulations to minimise potential negative impacts of tourism on gorillas – ensuring a limited number of tourists spend no more than one hour with the gorillas, with only one group of tourists visiting each gorilla group per day – will be maintained.