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Hug a gorilla this September

By Patrick Kagenda

Uganda Wildlife Authority offers a rare opportunity to millions

They are rare, shy and their DNA is 99% similar to yours. But they are also huge, weighing up to 200 kgs sometimes. So you can imagine that even their most passionate lover would have trouble hugging one – except in cyberspace.

We are talking about the mountain gorilla (gorilla beringei) and an innovation by the Uganda Wildlife Authority that allows enthusiasts to become their friends on the internet networking sites, facebook and Myspace.

For only US$ 1 starting Sept. 26, gorilla lovers anywhere in the world will be able to become a “friend of a gorilla” and follow its activities live on screen in cyberspace via strategically placed cameras in their habitat.

The campaign is aimed at raising funds to conserve and protect gorilla habitats.

Eunice Mahoro, the director of tourism at UWA, told The Independent, that the campaign will cost Shs 800 million and bring in a projected Shs 9 billion.

“UWA has a US $750,000 funding gap which needs to be addressed urgently,® she said.

According to her, UWA needs US$700,000 annually to protect the gorillas. The animal protection body intends to use to money to increase the number of rangers tracking the gorillas from 30 to 50 to insure proper protection.

Although they can live up to 50 years there are only 740 mountain gorillas worldwide, making them a highly endangered species.

More than half of the world­s mountain gorilla population resides in Uganda; 340 in the Bwindi Impenetrable forest in Southwestern Uganda and the rest in the Virunga mountain range, which spans the borders of Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Because they are only found in the great lakes region of East Africa, gorillas have become a part of Uganda­s national heritage and have attracted a lot of attention. Last year, the gorilla tourism industry in Uganda generated $600 million (Shs 1.23billion). In Uganda, gorilla tourism has created up to 150,000 jobs for Ugandans in various sectors.

In spite of being a high-value tourist attraction, gorillas are facing stiff competition from human populations for resources. In a bid to create awareness of their plight, the United Nations declared 2009 the Year of the Gorilla.

In Uganda, celebrations started with a media awareness campaign that was kicked off with a simulation trekking tour of Mabira Forest last week. It was followed by a street campaign dubbed ¬Gorillas on the streets of Kampala®.

The climax of this year­s events will be the launching of the biggest-ever habituated gorilla family and the ¬Naming the Gorilla® function that will be held on Sept. 26 in Kampala.

Gorilla tracking costs up to US$ 500 for foreigners and about US$ 300 for locals. Even at that steep price, trekking permits require advance booking of up to years sometimes.

Gorilla tracking lovers now have a rare opportunity to track them in cyberspace. The absence of the hustle and endurance-testing experience of entering an impenetrable forest and enduring long hikes should be a bonus for some.


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