Uganda experiences mountain gorilla baby boom

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BWINDI, UGANDA - 2018/09/26: Family of mountain gorillas seen at the Bwindi impenetrable Forest in Uganda. The bwindi impenetrable national park is a mountainous area in southwest Uganda. Its a home to the worlds remaining mountain gorillas, who feed on roots, leaves and fruits from the park. (Photo by Lorena de la Cuesta/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
BWINDI, UGANDA – 2018/09/26: Family of mountain gorillas seen at the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda. (Photo by Lorena de la Cuesta/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is a host to more than half of the world’s mountain gorillas, is experiencing an unprecedented baby boom, never recorded before, according to experts.

High up the ridges of what is known as one of Africa’s oldest rainforest, the population of mountain gorillas is growing.

Joseph Arinaitwe, Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) warden tourism in-charge of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park told Xinhua in a recent trip to the park that since July 22 this year, Uganda has registered the birth of eight mountain gorillas, seven in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and another in Mugahinga National Park, along the common border with Rwanda and the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

Arinaitwe attributes the baby boom to largely the conservation efforts that Uganda has undertaken over the years to protect the endangered giants.

He argued that several factors, like high-stress levels can lead gorillas not to procreate. He said the stress is caused by poaching, fights among family members or different groups and uncontrolled tourism.

“It is a message that conservation is paying off, gorillas are getting stable. If there was no effort of creating an environment of comfort, there would be no boom. When there is crisis in a family, a man has no time for sexual intercourse. The assumption here is that there is no pressure and therefore the baby boom,” Arinaitwe.

The conservationists argued that Uganda has over the years been able to fight poaching in the park. There is also controlled tracking of the gorillas to avoid stressing them.

COVID THREAT

When the COVID-19 pandemic broke out in the country in March, all tourism activities were closed in a bid to stop the spread of the deadly disease. The country’s Entebbe International Airport and the borders were closed to all incoming and outgoing travelers.

This lockdown had a major impact on the country’s tourism revenues, which are largely used to conserve the wildlife. According to ministry of finance figures, the country could lose up to 1.6 billion U.S. dollars it annually earns as revenue from the sector. More than half of the tourism revenue is contributed by gorilla tourism, according to UWA.

Arinaitwe said that because of the lockdown and the closure of tourism activities, many people whose livelihood depended on tourism to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park were affected.

Those living close to the park resorted to poaching, setting up snares to hunt antelopes. These snares at times end up trapping the gorillas.

According to UWA figures, poaching in the park has gone up from about 7 suspects arrested in a year to 8 suspects arrested in a few months.

A vivid case happened in June this year when a poacher named Felix Byamukama and three accomplices killed a popular silverback gorilla named Rakifi. Byamukama, pleaded guilty to counts of trespassing in a protected area, killing a gorilla, a duiker and a bush pig, and illegally possessing meat from the bush pig and duiker. He was sentenced 11 years in jail in July.

Arinaitwe said despite the challenges of reduced funding, they have increased foot patrols in the park. Despite the lockdown which started in March, the Rangers continued to monitor the gorillas and other wildlife in the park. Some poachers have been arrested.

EASE OF LIFE

Uganda continues to ease the lockdown restrictions as it attempts to resuscitate economic growth. The country’s president Yoweri Museveni on Sunday announced that the airport was reopened to tourist arrivals.

UWA on September 5 reopened all its primate parks after instituting strict standard operating procedures to stop the possible spread of COVID-19 from humans to the primates.

At Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, tourists are sanitized four times at different stages before they get to meet the mountain gorillas. Those with abnormal body temperatures are asked to step aside and if the situation worsens, there is a nearby health facility.

The distance between the visitors and the gorillas has also been adjusted to 10 meters from seven. Social distancing is emphasized throughout tracking the gorillas.

Buhoma town, neighboring the park, has also come alive again after a government directive that tourism reopens.

Denis Rubalema, co-director of Ride 4 A Woman, a community-based organization told Xinhua that they have been carrying out renovations at their accommodation facility and also encouraging the rural women, some of whom make handcrafts, to prepare for an anticipated tourism boom.

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