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THE population of the endangered Mountain gorillas in Virunga Massif has increased by 26.3% over the last seven years.

A statement from the wildlife agencies of Uganda, Rwanda and DR Congo shows that the current gorilla population in Virunga is estimated at 480, up from 380 individuals.

Virunga Massif comprises of Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda, Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda and Parc National des Virunga in DR Congo. Gorillas are also found in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda.
According to the statement, the annual growth rate of the gorilla population, estimated at 3.7%, matched that of the human population in Uganda.

“The analysis of a census conducted in March and April in the Virunga Massif confirms a 26.3 % increase in the population of mountain gorillas, Gorilla beringei beringei, in this area over the last seven years, with a 3.7 % annual growth rate,” said the agencies.

The census team encountered a total of 480 mountain gorillas in 36 groups and 14 solitary silverback males in the Virunga Massif. Of the 480 gorillas, 352 (73%) were habituated (349 in groups and three solitary males), while 128 were unhabituated (117 in groups and 11 solitary males).

The census was conducted by six teams of 72 people from Rwanda, DR Congo and Uganda, who trekked over 1,000km through the range, documenting fresh signs of mountain gorilla groups.

The last census, conducted in 2006, estimated the gorilla population at 340 in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.

Original Article by Gerald Tenywa, New Vision.

Recently, Shannon Stowell, president of the Adventure Travel Trade Association, and myself were having a discussion that stemmed from the Adventure Travel World Summit in Québec, Canada 2009. We were talking about how companies can practically pursue sustainability and responsibility and also be profitable businesses. Curiosity got the better of Shannon and he quizzed me on a number of practices that Volcanoes pursues. This has been published with permission in hopes of shedding light for other operators who might face similar issues:

SS: You commented on how more lodges should be designed so they don’t need air conditioning (like people have done for centuries). Have you been able to do this with your lodges?

Volcanoes Safaris do not just offer safaris, but aim to create a unique great ape experience for clients visiting Uganda and Rwanda. Their safaris offer an unparalleled insight into the complex ape-human world, giving guests not only a chance to see mountain gorillas and chimpanzees in their natural habitat, an awe-inspiring experience, but also to gain an understanding of the communities who live in the areas surrounding the national parks and how tourism and conservation affects their lives. Volcanoes believe that ecotourism in these remote areas needs to respect the culture of local communities, their modest economic means and the fragility of the environment. Providing western standards of comfort needs to be balanced with the pressure local people face in obtaining food and clean water. Their eco-lodges ensure that water consumption is reduced, waste disposal controlled and free solar power used as much as possible.

PM: Our lodges don’t need air conditioning because of altitude. But traditional building has many mechanisms for building using natural flows so this does work. Look at http://www.carbontrust.co.uk/ and search for ‘Passive Cooling.’

SS: So, you used the term ‘passive housing’ also, which I must admit I had not heard of- it turns out that it’s not common here in the US. I did some research and it’s fascinating but what I did learn is that air quality in tropical locations doesn’t do so well under these principles. Have you done passive house building in your location in Uganda? Or used some of the key principles?

PM: It’s worked well in Germany and other multi-season places so to date we have not used it but our new architectural consultant will be looking at these aspects as we move forward.

SS: Switching subjects a bit, I heard you say once that working within and around wildlife is challenging because of the effects. One of the things you called out was the impact of waste and from tossed out food, etc… How do you keep the gorillas away from these problematic spots?

The Volcanoes Safaris Team

PM: We try and make sure everything is disposed in pits with lids that cannot be accessed by the animals. We also try and separate different waste materials and dispose of them in appropriate ways. Waste as we all know is a major challenge and we need to constantly think about how best to handle it effectively.

PM: Also, If there is uncontrolled tourism, gorillas can die from our diseases.

SS: Are there examples of this, say, where a location was doing gorilla tourism and then succumbed to being uncontrolled and human diseases caused problems?

PM: So far, there is no specific place where this has happened but the risks of this are high as gorillas are very prone to human diseases. The lesson from gorilla tourism is clear. A gorilla safari benefits a highly endangered species. It contributes to local people having bread on the table. They are motivated to support the survival of the gorillas. It is not very high income relative to logging and mining but well controlled it can be a sensitive way of ensuring local people get an income from their local assets that have an international appeal — the forests where the gorillas live. But tourism will have to be carefully controlled so that the interaction between apes and humans is not too intense and does not affect gorilla health.

SS: In light of this lower income compared to extractive industries, how do you think the argument is successfully made to locals when they know or can be convinced that other, more destructive industries might bring them much more financial payoff?

PM: This is tough – in Gabon logging brings in much more money than tourism. We must all lobby for the environmental and social benefits as well as pure money. For local people income from tourism is a significant resource and helps in keeping forest areas intact. And people working in harmony with the environment rather than in conflict. This model can work elsewhere – the Tigers in India, the Galapagos, Ngorongoro crater. Working in post conflict Uganda and Rwanda .

SS: Let’s talk about what it’s like to work in a post conflict region.

PM: I have worked for 12 years in Uganda and 10 in Rwanda. Both have re-emerged from conflict – Uganda, 25 years ago and Rwanda about 15 years ago. There are many shining success stories of reconciliation, regeneration and hope in these countries. In Rwanda the journey started more recently so more work needs to be done.

SS: Do you have staff who have been on both sides of a conflict? How do you manage that? It seems like a huge challenge…

PM: Yes – it is a challenge – especially in Rwanda where the memories of genocide can be stronger and staff can have fears about working with people from different groups. We try and work in a way that is ethnic and gender neutral and work to build bridges between human beings of all backgrounds. I am happy to say that this approach helps build confidence and harmony that not only builds teamwork between staff but is also a positive model for the community.

The balance of luxury and responsibility

SS: I’m sure you ask yourself questions along these lines: What is the model for tourism in such countries? Is it ethical to launch luxury tourism here? How much luxury should the western traveler be provided when refugees are returning home after conflict and don’t have homes, bread and water, let alone schools for their children? How have you handled this? Do you have guiding principles or is it more of a managing by gut feel? Because I imagine this shifts as time goes on…

PM: We have had to evolve our approach. In an opening destination clients accepted the circumstances and whatever services we provided ten years ago. Now that we are connected to the global economy we have had to be more sensitive to the needs of our clients. As the region has settled, as the reputation of Volcanoes Safaris has grown, as interest in gorillas grows, we have noticed that our travelers are more discerning and more up-market. As a company with a strong customer focus we have embraced the need to change to meet their requirements. In doing so however, we start with our basic eco-principles and see how to adapt them in a practical way. Now at Volcanoes Virunga Lodge in Rwanda, it’s the first of our lodges where we have moved away from bush showers and dry toilets and introduced flush toilets but they are low flush, we collect our own rainwater and we recycle the grey water. We continue to use solar power for all our power needs although with the increased use of hot water we may have to have a standby generator for heating water on very cloudy days.

PM: In my work I have asked these questions: “In building lodges should you look at the global luxury model or the reality of your neighbourhood?”, “How much should be behind a wall in a cocoon and how much should you be sharing with your poor neighbours?” These questions have played a central part in my journey of life as I pioneered tourism in these areas that had seen so much devastation and strife.

SS: What key lessons have you learned from pioneering in post-conflict areas?

PM: Well, that’s a huge question! It takes a long time to do things in post conflict areas as structures, societies, infrastructure, people, education, training skills have been destroyed and you have to start at zero. But the human spirit is strong and people want to pick themselves up and progress. We have tried to work with them in all steps along the way in making this happen. It’s been a challenge but rewarding because people want to move on after conflict. As a company I believe we can make an important change through our approach and attitude. This can have an impact not only on how your own staff works but can be a model in the wider community. In Rwanda for example, others who have built hotels and lodges since our pioneering work have looked at our models of working and a number have said how they have been inspired by them – even if they have evolved their own distinct way of working. I believe as we all travel more we need to think carefully about the impact we have on fragile areas and societies if we are to work in harmony with other cultures and countries and not just expect the global luxury model.

SS: Thanks Praveen – you’ve chosen to do tourism in regions that have a lot to offer, but also have tremendous challenges to overcome. We wish you the best as you continue to provide an example for others to learn from and follow.

 

Adventure Travel Trade Association

As some of you know I was asked to co-MC the World Adventure Summit in

Scotland at the beginning of October by the ATTA from Seattle.

The 2010 Adventure Travel World Summit was covered in the The Scotsman, a national Scottish newspaper. The article describes the positive effects on the Scottish travel industry yielded by hosting the Summit.

“It’s hard to overestimate the significance of last week’s Adventure Travel World Summit in Aviemore, which saw 500 delegates from more than 50 countries – many of them tour operators – converge on the town to network, attend seminars and sample some of the many adventure sports the area has to offer.

“It’s hard to overestimate the significance of last week’s Adventure Travel World Summit in Aviemore, which saw 500 delegates from more than 50 countries – many of them tour operators – converge on the town to network, attend seminars and sample some of the many adventure sports the area has to offer.

Never mind that the event itself is estimated to be worth around £1 million to the town that hosts it, the knock-on effects for adventure tourism in Scotland could be huge. According to industry insiders, Scotland doesn’t really feature on the world map of adventure travel destinations – particularly as far as the lucrative North American market is concerned – but the Aviemore Summit could change that. No figures are available for the value of deals struck last week, but the anecdotal evidence is very promising.

Betsy West runs walking tour operator Wayfarers and around 95 per cent of her business comes from the US. Her current brochure only lists one Scottish tour, but at Aviemore she said: ‘We will definitely be including Scotland on a new itinerary.’

Peter Grubb of Idaho-based ROW Adventures added: ‘It’s very clever of any country to host this conference as it provides huge exposure to a wide audience. Scotland was barely on my radar in terms of a possible destination but now it’s very much front and centre. I hope to develop a new itinerary or two here within a year. I have no doubt that Scotland will see increased international exposure in this market in the near future.’”

Read the full article.

Hi Everyone,

STAR Uganda program  is arranging a red carpet celebrity dinner in Hollywood
on either 7th or the 8th December bringing together 300 Hollywood type
people and there will be 50 TV channels in the US focusing on that dinner.
They will be showcasing Uganda with main focus on BEFRIENDAGORILLA and I
think it would be great for some of our members participating to show
solidarity with both government and STAR.

UWA, STAR and Great lakes safaris are hosting 26 journalists in Queen
Elizabeth National Park starting tomorrow till Sunday and we shall have a
mother of all barbeques at Simba Safari Camp on Saturday night followed by a
presentation from myself on Uganda. The aim of this is to create more
awareness about Tourism domestically and should you happen to be around
Queen Elizabeth please join us only for the barbeque because Simba safari
Camp is fully booked for this weekend.

I had dinner with a very wealthy Tanzanian guy who happens to be my friend
and my aim was to find out how people get wealthy not that am interested in
being one(I know that a person can only be remembered by how he planted not by how much he harvested). Anyhow, what caught my attention most was that there are three general circles in life representing groups according to how much they have. The very wealthy in the top circle, fairly wealthy in the next and the poor are in the remaining circle. The guys in the top circle
are doing everything possible to prevent those in the middle circles from joining them and those in the middle have two struggles one to prevent those below and yet struggling to join those at the top. Good food for thought!!!!

In today’s new vision the letter of the day is talking about East African
community being real and will be stamped on the 20 November 2009 by the
member state representatives somehow, he does not mention where this is
going to happen from which I think is NOT important. My judgment tells we
shall face serious challenges especially the first ten years from the time
the EAC is effected and probably stabilize thereafter. The Tanzanian guy
tells me they are even more scared than we are about the Kenyans and I told
him Ugandans especially tour operators are ignorant about what is a head of
them which is good and bad. My advice is position yourselves strategically
now and if you want more advice I will charge USD350 per hour standard.
Last week the UMA guys pleaded with the President of Uganda to give them at
5 yrs for them to get ready for regional competition and this prompted me to
make an appointment for us to meet the President to present our case but I
will know the exact day on Monday and a small group of us go and explain our
case.

Lastly, I had told you guys about the course at the Institute for National
transformation and some of you were interested in joining the next intake
that starts next year July. The contact number of the registrar is
0774387770 and remember you attend  classes two full days in a month with
exams every month and costs ushs.300,000 month for 5 months. You can buy the books now and start reading now and these including Buy the future, good to great, fate of Africa 50yrs after independence, dead aid, Lee’s book on how he transformed Singapore from third world to first world and the last one is church shift and of course general reading on Uganda. In one of my exams I had write our whole national anthem which I passed. To know that the course
is so good I  will be sponsoring one of my staff in every intake.

Regards,

AMOS Wekesa

Here’s a picture of my visit to the Rotary Club Miami where my brother is a former President

Praveen Moman - Rotary Club

Praveen Moman - Rotary Club

Volcanoes Safaris has had some special visitors for the last week.  Rushegura group (Group R), with 18 gorillas has been dining on leaves on our property for the last week.  Our lodge staff has been pleased to see female NAMUNYWA,  who gave birth on 19 August on our property is back with her healthy infant!  Needless to say we are quite protective of the newest member of the Volcanoes Safaris family!

Park rangers, Tito Plan, Charles Birhuganya and Stanley Mushobeza are monitoring the  group daily to make sure they are in they are in a good condition. We are also working to make sure that our human visitors are respectful of the gorillas and don’t startle or scare them, as they are very protective of their babies.  This group has been spending a lot of time across the border in the Democratic Republic of Congo and we are thrilled to have them back.

Enjoy the pictures!

Here’s a quick transcript of my speech that I made at the Stephen Fry Dinner for Bwindi Community Hospital Sponsored by my company Volcanoes Safaris.


Making Humans and gorillas work in harmony

Royal Institute for International Affairs London 8 September.

Stephen Fry & Praveen Moman

Praveen Moman - Paul Williams - Stephen Fry


Welcome to everyone here and especially to Stephen Fry for supporting the Bwindi Hospital. The community of Bwindi, of which Volcanoes Safaris is a proud member through Volcanoes Bwindi Lodge – is very grateful for the work the hospital does and we are delighted to sponsor this dinner.

Its been a privilege to watch the hospital grow from when Dr Scott Kellerman, the founder, originally from California, first discussed his plans with me on the terrace of our lodge at Bwindi.

Its been a tremendous achievement to evolve a small clinic into this large and impressive community hospital that now delivers a hundred babies a month, run by an outstanding team of Ugandans and outsiders under Dr Paul Wiiliams. As a community hospital providing heavily subsidized services it relies heavily on funding support from different sources, so I hope more and more people will support what Stephen Fry has called a model hospital, including the tourists who visit the gorillas. As Stephen Fry has also said tourism is vital for supporting the gorillas and the hospital.

As a company we are in Bwindi because of gorilla tourism. Great ape ecotourism is very special. Meeting ones ancestors in the forgotten forests of africa is unforgettable and I commend it.

Gorilla tourism in Bwindi has brought many changes over the last 15 years – most  notably a living for the community and a reason to safeguard the gorillas. The clear benefits of tourism need to be balanced with the effects of increased development around the park. I believe that the private sector, the wildlife authority, key institutions like the hospital and communities need to work together on preserving habitat, looking after human health and the health and wellbeing of the gorillas.

We must all rise to this challenge if the future of these precarious populations of our cousins is to be secured. So l hope humans and gorillas can work together in harmony for common good!

I hope you enjoy the evening.

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