In an extraordinary move, and with almost no notice, in early May Rwanda doubled the cost of their gorilla permits for new bookings from an already expensive $750 per permit, to a truly eye-watering $1,500!
We can only assume that their belief is that the unique attraction of the gorillas will outweigh the huge increase in cost and visitors will keep coming. In a move to extend visitor stays in Rwanda beyond the usual 3 to 4 day gorilla visit, you can get a 30% discount on the gorilla permit if you also stay a further 3 nights in one of Rwanda’s other parks such as Nyungwe Forest or Akagera National Park.
We are hugely disappointed by this move as it restricts a unique wildlife experience to an even fewer selection of even wealthier visitors; visitors who go back and tell their friends and gorillas really do need all the friends they can get. In some wildlife and conservation areas, fewer numbers of visitors paying higher fees may have environmental benefits, but it’s hard to see this being the case here, with visitor numbers already restricted to 8 visitors per gorilla family per day for one hour only. I imagine all the lodge, service industries, porters and other people reliant on a good stream of visitors are extremely nervous looking forward.
Given we would normally encourage guests to do two gorilla treks over two days to see two different families, the new cost would be $6,000 for a couple for the permits alone! Interestingly, Uganda has immediately responded by confirming they will be keeping their permit fee at $600 each, for at least 12 months and there is already evidence of Uganda being booked in preference to Rwanda, so Uganda could well become the gorilla destination of choice – you’ll need to book early to guarantee a permit.
And what of the most important factor of all – the gorillas? The mountain gorillas of the Virunga Mountain range, found only in a small pocket of Rwanda, Uganda and the Congo, number only some 900 or so in the world, but they are also the only population of great apes on the planet whose numbers are actually increasing. There is no doubt that this increase is due to the protection from poaching, the veterinary care and the habitat preservation that is all funded by gorilla tourism. We can all just hope that Rwanda has not ‘killed the goose that laid the golden eggs’. Fingers crossed!
Do get in touch on Andrew@journeyintoafrica if you want help and advice on seeing the magnificent mountain gorillas and other classic African wildlife.