Human Visits to the Gorillas
Relations between humans and gorillas have not always been fraternal. For centuries gorillas were considered fearsome and aggressive and it was only last century that we finally learned they are gentle and vegetarian. Chimpanzees are far more aggressive than relatively docile gorillas.The first non- African to encounter a mountain gorilla was Oscar von Beringei in 1902.
He shot two on the slopes of mt sabyinyo and the new sub species was named after him. Hunting gorillas was a popular pastime until one hunter, Carl Akeley, decided that some thing must be done to preserve the population of these magnificent creatures.
In 1925 he persuaded the Belgian government to create Africa’s first protected area, Albert national park, which is now parc National des Virungas in DRC. Sadly, over the years agriculture and administrative division have reduced the size of this protected area, and poaching has further reduced he number of gorillas.
The first scientific study of the mountain gorillas in the Virunga volcanoes area was undertaken by George Schaller in 1959. His work was continued by Dian Fossey from 1967 and her story has been made into the film gorillas in the mist. Fossey’s confrontational, uncompromising stance on poaching probably led to her murder in 1985.
German adventurer Walter Baumgartel was one of the first people to recognize that tourism could provide a reason for locals to support preservation of the forests, which would thus ensure the survival of mountain gorillas. He bought the Travelers Rest Hotel in Kisoro, Uganda, in 1955 and people soon came to try to track the great apes.
By the late 1960’s gorilla tracking had become quite popular.Gorilla tourism today stands at a crossroads. All three countries where the remaining mountain gorillas live have a history of instability that makes it hard for international conservation organizations to operate with any certainty.
Several organizations promote sustainable agricultural and tourism practices and encourage the active participation of local communities in conservation, and this has played a large part in ensuring the gorillas’ survival during turbulent times. However, many of the residents of local communities around these protected areas remain bitter; they’re aware of the vast sums of money flowing in from visitors, and that very little of it reaches them.