This is not only a unique opportunity for tourists, but the activity also brings benefits to the local communities, who play a crucial part in the tracking and habituating the animals to human presence.
How can you sit side by side with a 200kg gorilla with no problem?
Well this is not an easy task and certainly not something that happened over night. This is possible due to painstaking efforts on the ground.
Since 1997, WWF has supported the Dzanga-Sangha Primate Habituation Program in its efforts to develop ecotourism through gorilla-viewing.
With western lowland gorillas, habituation has proven particularly difficult because of several factos:
- limited visibility in the lowland forests where the gorillas live;
- the difficulty of following gorilla tracks through the dense litter of dead leaves;
- and, the long distances traveled by western lowland gorillas as they search for fruit in the forest.
How was it done then?
This is where local knowledge comes to play a crucial role. The strength of the program is in the hands of the famous BaAka (pygmy) trackers.
The BaAka (pygmy) people know their homeland by heart and their ability to locate the gorillas comes from this profound knowledge of the forest.
Some of the traces they follow are so elusive that, to inexperienced observers, they can be difficult to recognize even after they’ve been pointed out. With the BaAka’s skills the search for gorillas was has been successful and contact with gorillas frequent.
This meets one on the main goals of the Dzanga-Sangha Primate Habituation Program, which is to generate income for conservation and the socio-economic development of the area.
Gorilla tourism at Dzanga-Sangha opened officially in 2001, after the first gorilla family was habituated to human presence.