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Tourists and Gorillas

For many years, the fate of the mountain gorilla has looked dire. The gorillas live in east Africa’s Virunga Mountains, a chain of volcanoes bordered by Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda. Gorilla populations face threats from habitat loss, poaching, disease and years of war and conflict. With only approximately seven hundred individuals left in the wild, the mountain gorilla is considered critically endangered by the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species.

However, conservation efforts by several non-governmental organizations, as well as the Rwandan people and government appear to be paying off. According to a 2003 census, the mountain gorilla population in the Virunga volcanoes has increased by 17 percent since 1989. Justin Rurangirwa, chief park warden of Rwanda’s Parc National des Volcans, says of the increase, “There is no difference in the number of births. What has changed is that there is no more poaching.”

One contributing factor to the success of conservation programs is the important role mountain gorillas play in Rwanda’s tourism industry. In 2005, over 10,000 tourists visited Rwanda to see the gorillas. As of November 2006, the number of visitors to Parc National des Volcans had already climbed to almost 12,000. This growth in the tourism industry provides the Rwandan government and people increasing incentive to protect the endangered animals from poachers, habitat loss and other threats.

According to park guide Francis Bavingana, “Gorillas are our national pride. There has to be promotion of conservation.”

To support efforts to protect the mountain gorillas, contact the Diane Fossey Gorilla Fund ( www.gorillafund.org/), the African Wildlife Foundation ( www.awf.org/) and/or the International Gorilla Conservation Program (www.mountaingorillas.org/). All programs are conducting community- and research-based efforts to protect the endangered animal.

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