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Report: Democratic Republic of Congo

Congo conflict hits mountain gorilla tourism

RFI/François Porcheron
Text by: Gloria Nakiyimba
3 min

Despite fighting in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the population of mountain gorillas continues to grow in the Greater Virunga region. But tourism has taken a hit because of the conflict.

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A new census shows the region now has a total of 880 gorillas up from 380 in 2003.

The region extends across parts of the DRC, Uganda and Rwanda.

The mountain gorillas in Mugahinga and Bwindi national parks in Uganda, the Virunga national park in DRC and Volcanoes national park in Rwanda are among the world's most endangered primates.

Despite the increase in the gorilla population, Cosma Wilungula, the outgoing chairman of the Greater Virunga Transboundary Collaboration and head of the Institute of Congo for the Conservation of Nature (ICCN), said tourism activities were halted because of the conflict in Congo.

He however noted that the ICCN has not received any information about gorillas deaths a result of the fighting in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

According to Wilungula, tourism activities in the Virunga national park have been suspended because it is not safe for tourists as their movement cannot be monitored because of the rebel presence.

This, he said, has led to loss of foreign income earned from gorilla tracking permits.

Wilungula expressed optimism that the challenge of war and insecurity in the Virunga park in Congo will be addressed through the right political channels.

“We believe that those who have been mandated to handle this issue will be able to find a lasting solution to the problem for the sake of our wildlife heritage and other related natural ecosystems,” he said.

Heads of the Greater Virunga Region meeting in Kampala over the weekend pledged to strengthen transboundary collaboration to ensure better management of the wildlife ecosystems in the region.

The executive directors of the three wild life institutions of the Uganda Wildlife Authority also agreed to work to solve transboundary problems such as poaching of gorillas, illegal hunting, insecurity, and wildlife diseases within the greater Virunga region.

Andrew Seguya, the executive director of the Uganda Wildlife Authority, attributed the increase in the number of gorillas to the transboundary collaboration which made it possible to carry out joint patrols within the protected area.

At the same meeting Rica Rwigamba the director for conservation and tourism in Rwanda took over the chairmanship of the Greater Virunga Tran boundary Collaboration.

“Over the seven years we have seen a 26.2 per cent increase in the mountain gorillas and what makes it even special is that it’s the only species of gorilla that has been growing,” she said.

She said the collaboration has enabled the three countries in the management of the protected areas which include volcanoes national park in Rwanda, Virunga national park in the DRC, as well as Mgahinga, Bwindi impenetrable, Queen Elizabeth, Semliki and Rwenzori mountains national parks in Uganda.

The Greater Virunga region is also classified as one of the seven most important regions for bird conservation in Africa with a total of 37 endemic bird species.

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