President Yoweri Museveni launched PRESTO, the Presidential Initiative for Sustainable Tourism in Uganda, in London at the end of February. He is, I believe, the first African President to front a national tourism initiative overseas. Uganda is to be commended for raising the profile of tourism and its role in preserving a precious natural heritage. Tourism is seen as a vital sector of the economy. It provides employment and also generates foreign exchange and markets for local products.
Focusing on high-end tourism Uganda aims to provide a top quality tourism product which does not degrade the environment. An enchanting country, rich in biodiversity, Uganda boasts 10 national parks and over 18,000 species of flora and fauna. Tourism revenue helps to protect national parks and wildlife while generating income both at a local and national level.
Black Pearls – the Mountain Gorillas
It was Winston Churchill who dubbed Uganda ‘The Pearl of Africa’. The endangered Mountain gorillas are fondly regarded as Uganda’s ‘Black Pearls‘. Undoubtedly, they are among the most prestigious of Uganda’s wildlife. Several gorilla families have been habituated in two National Parks – Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and Mgahinga – and these can be visited by tourists. (If considering a trip, be sure to book your gorilla permits well in advance.) It is encouraging to see tourism playing a constructive role in the gorilla conservation programme. It brings in much needed revenue. And, through its predominantly international clientele, it maintains a high level of awareness about the problems facing the gorillas’ survival.
Six safety rules when approaching gorillas:
- Do be very quiet.
- Do not look directly or point at them, as they will feel threatened.
- Do not go closer than five metres.
- If they charge, do not run; back off gently.
- If you have to cough or sneeze, turn away and cover your mouth.
- No flash photography.
Touched by a Wild Mountain Gorilla
In this footage, I was glad that the people had been gorilla tracking before the gorilla family came into the camp, as the man knew exactly how to behave for his own safety – even if the five metre rule did not hold fast. It is interesting that the gorillas were drawn to him, perhaps due to his black t-shirt.
It would be remiss not to mention the Kony 2012 video that has gone viral this week. It is about the abhorrent Lords Resistance Army (LRA) which operates in the far north of Uganda and the neighbouring Democratic Republic of the Congo. However, these areas are far off the tourist trail. Efforts are already underway to destroy the LRA. Meantime, international tourists have a crucial role to play in helping to conserve endangered species like the Mountain gorilla and Uganda’s natural heritage.