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by AFP - June 30, 2014

Powerfully pushing through thick jungle, the mountain gorilla is fearless in the face of strangers on his territory, but the endangered ape is unaware the family group he guards survives by the thinnest of threads.

The gorillas here in Uganda's lush forests are protected by the economic lifeline they create for remote communities from the tourist dollars they generate, providing a key incentive for humans to protect the giant animals.

The forest in Uganda's far southwest is home to an estimated 400 mountain gorillas -- roughly half of the world’s population -- including several families which have been habituated to human presence.

But it is the income from tourism that is helping protect the animals, which in the past were regularly hunted for their meat, and by farmers to protect their crops.

"In order to protect this endangered specie we needed to show the economic benefit of these gorillas," said Charles Tumwesigye, deputy head of conservation for the government's Ugandan Wildlife Authority.

"Tourism started as a way of showing the people that gorillas can be economically important, that we can earn revenue which can improve your livelihood".

UgandaRwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo are the only countries in the world where you can see the giant primates.

But the privilege comes at a high price , costing some $600 (450 euros) for a single, brief visit.

- No silver bullet -

Knowing the cash supports the gorillas "helps to swallow the pill", said Blaise Peccia-Galleto, a French tourist.

"We are willing to pay that kind of money because we know that a big part of those resources are reinvested in the preservation of the species," he said. "We also feel like we’ve experienced something very exclusive."

Threats to the mountain gorilla –- including war, habitat destruction and disease –- were once thought to be so severe that the species could become extinct by the end of the 20th century, but the population has increased significantly in the last 30 years, largely due to improved conservation efforts.

Uganda Wildlife Education Centre (UWEC)

At one time, the Uganda Wildlife Education Centre (UWEC) was caring for 23 chimpanzees at the Entebbe facility. The chimpanzees are brought to the Centre as a result of confiscation from animal dealers or poachers.

Since then UWEC and concerned citizens have been looking for a suitable alternative for the orphaned chimpanzees at the Centre. Uganda has approximately 3,000 chimps left in the wild. Many chimps fall victim of poachers and infants are often sold into the pet trade or smuggled to other countries to be used in biomedical research, circuses, and entertainment.

In 1996, Ngamba Island, 23 kilometre south-west of Entebbe on Lake Vcitoria, came up for sale.

This tropical Island is composed of 100 acres of rainforest and was found to have many species of food trees suitable for chimps.

It has taken over two years to raise the funds needed for the island purchase and construction of necessary infrastructure on the island such as staff accommodation, animal holding facilities and visitor education buildings.

The Jane Goodall Institute, International fund for Animal Welfare, Born Free Foundation, and Zoological Park Board of New South Wales have joined with UWEC to help the sanctuary become a reality. Now it's done: a perfect sanctuary for chimps and a great place to visit.

Today, all twenty chimps live in a cohesive community in their new found freedom. About 10% of the island is reserved for staff and visitors, set up as an eco-friendly environment. Composting toilets, rainwater collection, proper waste management practices and solar energy for necessary power are used at the sanctuary.

The project is working with local community groups on neighbouring islands to work towards their needs. They will benefit by improving sanitation and medical care from funds raised at the sanctuary.The islands was opened in April 1999 for visitors.

You are invited and most welcome to visit the island, it's an excellent day trip. Contact Paul & Jane Goldring in Entebbe gctours@imul.com or any other tour operator in Uganda about details of hiring boat transport and entrance fee. Your visit will not only be a highlight on your safari, it will also help us to care for the chimps.


Uganda Tourist Board
P.O.Box 7211
Tel: 256-41-342196/7
Fax: 256-41-342188
E-mail: utb@starcom.co.ug

Also: Uganda- Another Land

Your guide to the East African Great Lakes region