Interview with Carol Namatovu, Marketing of Volcanoes Safaris Uganda, a gorilla safari company

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1. Can you explain what is means to go on a gorilla safari?
Undeniably the most unique primate that survives in the forgotten forests of Africa is the gorilla, both the mountain gorilla and the lowland gorilla. In contrast to the six billion human beings living on our crowded planet, there are only some seven hundred Mountain Gorillas left on the borders of Uganda, Rwanda and Congo. Seeing the mountain gorillas is an awesome experience. Clients must book, with payment, gorilla permits well in advance as they are not always available. On the day of tracking they are driven to a starting point depending on the gorilla group allocated to them. They then start walking up the mountain with the help of a knowledgeable guide who locates their previous night’s nests in order to track them to their day location. Tracking starts at about eight am so clients are recommended to arrive a day before and stay in nearby lodges. It may take a few hours to the whole day to return to the lodge. Visitors must therefore be fit.

2. How long is spent with the gorillas? Do you always end up seeing the gorillas?

One hour is allowed with the gorillas, at a distance of at least 5 metres. Getting a gorilla permit is not a guarantee of seeing gorillas “BUT ONLY A FEW OF THE VISITORS HAVE NOT SEEN THEM.” There are number of circumstances where access to the Gorillas may not be permitted at short notice. For example closure of the National Park or borders; absence of the gorillas and security changes. In such case, refunds are at the discretion of the relevant authority and we cannot accept liability for them.

3. Uganda has been the traditional African country for tracking gorillas the last few years, but now we are hearing more about Rwanda. Can you tell me what makes Rwanda unique?
Rwanda has a number of unique delights to offer travellers. Parc National des Volcans in the Virunga volcanoes is home to the Mountain Gorillas to which Dian Fossey dedicated her life. Nyungwe Forest, one of the largest montane forests in Central Africa, is renowned for its large troops of colombus monkeys and rich variety of orchids. Akagera National Park is a Savannah park with elephants, hippo and crocodile. Lake Kivu is a beautiful inland sea enclosed by steep terraced hillsides. There are a large variety of birds. Rwanda has a rich culture with its second city, Butare, having one of the finest cultural museums in Africa. The scenery in the shadow of the volcanoes is some of the most breathtaking in Africa. Rwanda’s gorilla tourism was halted by the genocide but is fast recovering. Reconciliation too has been much faster than thought. There are also more permits per day in Rwanda. Chances of getting a permit are therefore higher there.

4. There are mixed reports about safety in the bordering regions of the Congo, can you comment on this?
The situation in the gorilla parks in Uganda and Rwanda remains stable and travel to areas neighboring the parks is proceeding normally. Gorilla tracking in Bwindi and Mgahinga in Uganda and Parc National des Volcans in Rwanda continues normally. Volcanoes Safaris is monitoring the situation and if there is any change we will inform clients accordingly. Volcanoes Safaris does not currently take clients to Eastern DRC.

5. Some travelers argue that going to see the gorillas is actually threatening their habit and way of life. What steps is your company doing to help protect their way-of-life and habit?
Volcanoe Safaris works closely with local communities and conservation organizations to protect and conserve the forests in which the gorillas leave. A few years back we launched an appeal to save the rare mountain gorillas with proceeds going to the three main conservation organizations. Proceeds from permit sales are used in conserving the natural habitat and to stop poaching the gorillas. This was the biggest threat to them. We do not carry clients having communicable diseases to the parks and we educate them on the dangers to the animals. In Rwanda we support a number of projects through the Volcanoes BLCF Project GEARED TOWARDS PROMOTING ECO TOURISM.

6. What distinguishes Volcanoes Safaris from other gorilla companies?
Volcanoes Safaris is the premier safari company of Uganda and Rwanda and has an unrivalled knowledge of both countries. We have been running safaris in Uganda since 1997 and were the first international company to start taking clients to Rwanda in 2000. We have our own fleet of safari vehicles and our highly acclaimed guides who escort clients on safari. We are also the only company to have properties at both of the Ugandan gorilla parks ­ and Rwanda.

This interview was with Carol Namatovu, Sales and Marketing of Volcanoes Safaris Uganda, a gorilla safari company.

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