Uganda, Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo
Mountain gorillas represent a culturally, ecologically and economically important resource to the three range countries where they occur, as well as holding significant value for tourists globally. Yet while tourism has provided an economic incentive to preserve mountain gorillas and their habitat to date, they remain critically endangered and are extremely vulnerable to disease transmission, armed conflict, poaching, illegal trade in live infants, and habitat degradation. In addition, tourists have high expectations about their ‘bucket list’ gorilla trekking experience due to a variety of circumstances ranging from social media depictions to the cost of travel. The incentive structure currently in place for all stakeholders in the mountain gorilla tourism industry, an industry which is based on providing exceptional customer service, rewards tour operators who meet tourists’ expectations and demands.
In response to this The Wildlife Friendly Enterprise Network (WFEN), in close partnership with the International Gorilla Conservation Programme (IGCP), a coalition of Flora and Fauna International and World Wildlife Fund (WWF), and through a 3-year consultative stakeholder process with the mountain gorilla range state governments, communities, and the private sector, is piloting a first-of-its kind species-focused Gorilla Friendly™ tourism and product certification. The vision for Gorilla Friendly” certification is that it would provide the opportunity for continuous improvement of best practices so that even existing excellent tour operations can be improved and recognized for the tourism sector but also to build capacity for a pro-poor approach linking supply and demand in the tourism supply chain for locally grown products to ensure communities in the Park buffer zone are truly benefitting from gorilla tourism income. Gorilla Friendly™ certification will serve as a benchmark for best practices that non-certified operations can measure themselves against and ideally work towards gaining certification themselves, thus providing the possibility of improving standards for all tour and hospitality operations raising the bar and initiating an important conversation in the range states.
The Conservation Enterprise
Gorilla Friendly™ is the world’s first voluntary tourism label to use expert input on mountain gorilla health, ecology and behavior to create a set of standards for products and tourism which uses market forces to engage tourists as partners in conservation.Gorilla Friendly™ will empower consumers to create change on the ground by putting in place incentives for the protection of one of the world’s most critically endangered species; thus providing increased economic opportunities for some of the least economically advantaged park edge communities; and contributing to the conservation of one of the most spectacular and bio-diverse landscapes in the world.
Watch this space for news and updates on our progress. In the meantime if you are planning on trekking gorillas in the wild, please take the Gorilla Friendly™ Pledge To learn more about this effort please see the Executive Summary of the Feasibility Report.