The Uganda Wildlife Authority, the government parastatal that manages all national parks in Uganda has relaxed the rules and regulations that guide the booking and reschedules of the gorilla permits. These rules have been made in order to safe guard the mountain gorillas in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga national park.
At the beginning of April, UWA temporarily suspended gorilla trekking activities in both national parks so that new measures can be taken to safeguard the endangered gorillas. It should be noted that there as few as 1000 mountain gorillas left in the whole world. These great apes are found in only three countries; Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The COVID-19 put Uganda in a lockdown and the country closed its borders from visitors making it impossible for tourists who had booked their gorilla treks to travel to the country. With the new updated Covid-19 measures, the country may soon open its borders.
In order to protect the interests of the tourists, the Uganda Wildlife Authority relaxed the policies of booking and cancelling the gorilla permits by allowing late reschedules. The tourists who had booked their gorilla permits are also allowed to make two reschedules for their gorilla permits in a period of up to 2 years without any penalty.
Continuity of gorilla safaris after coronavirus
Uganda has eased its lockdown by allowing some businesses to reopen. Without a single death from Covid-19, the country seems to be on the right path in controlling the global pandemic that has greatly affected the tourism industry.
The continuity of gorilla tourism in Bwindi Forest and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is assured by the authority. The positive developments in controlling the epidemic, there is hope to re-open primate parks for tourism. Many tourists are still clinging to their bookings for gorilla visits in July, August and September, the peak season for safaris in the country.
According to the experts the Coronavirus poses lethal threats to the great apes. Scientists warn that many of our closest living relatives are susceptible to get infected with human diseases. For long, our closest cousins have been susceptible to human diseases most especially respiratory diseases. Visitors with flue and cough have not been allowed to go on treks into the forests to track the mountain gorillas.
The decisionn to shut tourists and researchers from visiting the mountain gorillas in all the gorilla parks was not an easy one but necessary so that a study can be done to protect these great apes. With evidence that there was past virus transmission of common colds and other respiratory diseases from humans to animals, there was a dire need to protect the great apes from the disease that is still being studied.
To further enhance conservation, the authorities within both the Virunga Mountains and Bwindi Impenetrable Forest are working on taking up several measures in order to protect the mountain gorillas as well as chimpanzees from the Corona Virus pandemic. Some of the suggested rules are;
- Increasing the distance left between tourists and the great apes during the primate watching sessions. There are plans to increase the distance to 10 meters from the usual 7 meter rule.
- Tourists may also be advised to wear masks during treks into the tropical rain forests. Masks have been worn on all gorilla treks in the Virunga National Park of Congo.
- With the guidance from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), tourists who have been in contact with anybody ill in the preceding 14 days, should be allowed to visit great apes.
The public as well as prospective tourists have been assured by the Uganda Wildlife Authority that after the defeat of coronavirus, gorilla trekking will be reopened in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga National Park.
To sum up the above, the relaxation of policies regarding gorilla tourism are aimed at enhancing gorilla conservation and protecting the bookings that have been done by tourists and tour operators.
Since conservation is important, tourists are advice not to cancel the trips due to break down of the Covid-19 but instead postpone the tour so that enough funds can be maintained to protect the great apes that are at verge of getting extinct.