It was our last morning in Bwindi, and had we left on time we would have missed them. As we were wrapping up our last interview, a family of mountain gorillas overstepped the bounds of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park and walked right past our little hut. They are the centre stage attraction in Bwindi and the reason some tourists pay up to $500 a night plus $600 dlls for arranged gorilla trekking walks. And therein lies the problem. MONEY.
When the Park became a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a protected area for gorillas in 1992, the Batwa peoples were evicted because they were considered a threat to the mountain gorillas and other species. And no wonder they wanted to protect the forest. Bwindi has one of the richest fauna communities in East Africa. It is home to almost half of the world’s population of mountain gorillas. HALF. 50%. At $600 per tourist, that was a business opportunity the government could not leave untapped.
Don’t get me wrong. I was beyond myself with excitement when we got to see them (especially without paying $600 dlls) and I believe we need to protect them and other species around the world. Sometimes I just wonder if we should also consider the people who lived amongst them, who needed the forest just as much as these gorillas do and therefore would never unbalance their home ecosystem. When the “West” is tearing up forest, plains, polluting air, throwing toxic waste into the ocean……I wonder if we know more about conservation than the people who called the forest home.