Uganda Wildlife Authority has officially relaunched primate tourism following the suspension of the activity on March 25 this year.
Minister of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities, Tom Butime, made the official announcement last week in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, noting that a number of incentives – for both visitors and tour operators – would be implemented to promote this flagship tourism activity in the country.
“The relaunch is very significant because primate tourism is the flagship product for Uganda,” said Ugandan tour operator, Vincent Mugaba of Kwezi Outdoors. He said Mountain gorillas, in particular, were Uganda's most prized tourist attraction, contributing about 70% to the national parks’ tourism revenue.
He said gorilla tracking was done in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in southwest Uganda. Between them, the two parks have about 50% of the world’s remaining population of Mountain gorillas. Mgahinga National Park also has Golden monkeys as a key attraction.
Uganda is home to over 5 000 chimpanzees – the second-largest population in the world – with most found in Kibale National Park, which is often referred to as the country’s ‘primate capital’.
Following the relaunch of gorilla trekking, every guest is now entitled to free entry to Mt. Elgon National Park or Toro Semliki Wildlife Reserve.
Tour operators also stand to benefit. For every 30 permits bought, the operator gets two free. At US$600 per permit, that is a benefit of $1 200.
“It is hoped this will incentivise an industry that has been basically shut down by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Mugaba, pointing out that in March this year, the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) had suspended primate tourism, related research and filming, following the confirmation of COVID-19 cases in the country.
All the national parks were closed in April. “Accommodation facilities, tour operators and workers in the sector have since been devastated by the lockdown, with many losing jobs as companies were closed,” said Mugaba.
According to the UWA, the shutdown of the parks was necessary to protect both the primates and humans from possible infection of the virus.
Gorillas and chimps share over 97% of human genes and are highly susceptible to human infections.
The resumption primate tourism coincides with the resumption of international travel as Entebbe International Airport reopens to passenger traffic tomorrow (October 1).
Health and safety protocols
Under the standard operating procedures, all tour operators need to have personal protective equipment (PPE) in their vehicles for the safety of their staff and guests.
For those tracking gorillas, chimps or other primates, it is mandatory for all trekkers and guides to wear masks at all times. Social distancing and the normal distancing between animals and humans will be maintained.