The African Primatological Society Conference (APS) ended with wildlife experts and tourism stakeholders calling for diversification of tourism products to reduce the pressure on primates.

The second APS took place on September 3-6, at Imperial Botanical Hotel in Entebbe, under the theme of ‘Primate Conservation in Africa: Challenges and opportunities’. The summit attracted over 30 countries which were represented at the event including researchers, policymakers, tourism stakeholders, government agencies and diplomats, who discussed practices and opportunities that primates are facing.

Lily Ajarova, the CEO of Uganda Tourism Board (UTB) said promotion of eco-tourism, tourism product diversification and lobbying were some of the steps being taken by the board to conserve the country’s wildlife, and primates in particular.

“We have split the country into 13 clusters and we are profiling each of them to find their iconic features.  Each is unique,” said Ajarova, speaking at a panel discussion during the APS.

“We started with the Equator, which is known to have six points that we intend to package differently. We call upon investors with the love for tourism to venture into marine, mountaineering, culture and sports, among others, so that we can diversify and reduce pressure on the great apes,” she added.

Amos Wekesa, CEO of Uganda Lodges and a tourism expert said: “Primate eco-tourism brings in about UGX 60 billion (US$16m). However, the fact that we are sitting on the second largest lake in the world (Lake Victoria), the River Nile, mountain ranges among other things shows that we have a lot of potential and this is possible when entrepreneurs are shown the value of this lucrative sector.

“We also need to start and work on our education curriculum so that tourism education is part of the syllabi, so that the children appreciate it from the start,” Wekesa added.

Praveen Moman, the owner of Volcano Safaris, said tourism was part of the answer, but only if connected to conservation. “If you have no tourism, the primates will die. If you have too much tourism, the primates will also die. Conservation is really a difficult task if the people don’t earn from it, so we should find ways of making it work.”

In terms of primate richness, Uganda is host to 53.9% of the world’s remaining population of Mountain gorillas, and 8% of the global mammal diversity. Uganda has 15 species of primates of which four of them are endangered: the mountain gorilla, chimpanzee, red colobus monkey, and golden monkey.

“It is in recent years that the government has shown key interest in the tourism sector which is a plus for the economy. Tourism is about telling a story and we should invest in human capital to give them the best experience and Bugoma, one of the habitats is still under threat,” said Ajarova.