Last week two British tourists were kidnapped in Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the female ranger they were with was sadly killed. The story made international headlines and, although the tourists were released a few days later, is likely to have made it even harder for the Congo to attract people to visit the gorillas.
The Foreign office already advises against travel to the region, making it more difficult for visitors to get a travel agency to book for them, or insurance cover for a trip. At the same time the gorilla tourist industry in Rwanda and Uganda is well-established and viewed as a safe place to visit, in spite of being on the border with DR Congo.
The news of kidnappings in Virunga is also likely to impact on tourism in Kahuzi-Biega National Park, also in eastern DR Congo, and home to the grauer’s gorillas, the cousins of the mountain gorillas of Virunga that are also critically endangered.
The loss of tourists means the loss of an income stream for the ICCN (the Congolese Wildlife Service) that protects them. Both Virunga and Kahuzi-Biega have been working to attract more tourists over the past few years, trying to show the world that their corner of the Congo is safe enough to visit for the once in a lifetime experience of coming face to face with the gorillas. Both parks have made it easier for visitors to get visas to enter the country, and offer good guides and trackers to help make sure tourists do get to see the gorillas when they visit.
Recent events are likely to undo that work, however, which will make it harder for the ICCN to pay rangers to protect the gorillas and makes it harder for us all to show the value of the gorillas in the economic terms of the revenue they can generate for a poor country such as Congo through tourism.
Hopefully people will still to visit, especially if tourist companies continue to offer trips. Thankfully one of our partners, the Wild Frontiers Foundation, is supporting the Pole Pole Foundation in Kahuzi-Biega National Park, and the travel company has multiple trips booked for later this year, helping to keep the industry and the valuable funds it provides going.
Overall, this event highlights the difficulties conservationists face with tourism, especially in insecure areas such as DR Congo. While lodges can be built and work carried out to market safaris, one event can destroy all that work in an instant. This is something we have included in Conservation Crisis (you can download the game on appstores now). Players may spend money on luxury and backpacker lodges to generate more funds for their reserve, but that work may be undermined by event cards that come up; where the local poaching militia destroys luxury lodges and creates insecurity so tourists don’t visit, or where a disease outbreak leads people not to come.
It all shows the precariousness of the tourist industry and is something conservationists in the field and those playing our game have to contend with to keep wildlife safe – we’ve made our game as true-to-life as we can, to take you as close as possible to the reality of protecting wildlife in the real world.
So, after reading this, will you take the risk and build luxury lodges, or play it safe and try not to rely on tourism revenue? You can try your strategy out now when you download our game for your phone or tablet from the Android or iOS stores.