Gorillas are a major draw for tourists when they go to Africa. Because of the demand to see them and because there are so few remaining it can be very expensive to undertake a gorilla trek. In an effort to save money some tourists from Europe and America are willing to pay Congolese rebels to take them to see Virunga’s mountain gorillas.
The war that is currently being undertaken in the DR Congo has seen the gorilla sector of the Virunga National Park fall into the hands of rebel forces. Those rebel forces are now undertaking gorilla treks and offering up to 50% discount on official treks in neighbouring countries.
In an effort to get a good deal so-called eco-tourists and wildlife tourists are willing to believe the rebels when they say that the fees that they charge to guide you will go to helping and protecting the gorillas. In reality the fees go towards buying more guns, ammunition and explosives in order to continue their attacks.
Normally the daily fees to visit the gorillas can be £500 but the rebels are charging as little as £250.00 to see the apes.
M23 rebels are claiming that since they seized the gorilla sector of the park American, British and Belgian tourists have visited.
Fees paid to the official guides are normally channelled back into looking after the safety and security of the gorillas but those who pay the M23 for the privilege of visiting the gorillas are paying towards rape, murder and supporting the use of child soldiers in the bloody conflict – a high price to pay to save a few pounds.
The money given to the M23 rebels by the tourists is also being used to fund ammunition in the fight and this is contributing to the deaths of gorillas who get caught in the cross-fire or artillery barrages.
The rebels use booking agents across the world to take bookings for the tours and will also trade under the name of the official government parks department but there is no official gorillas tours being undertaken in DR Congo at the moment because of the hostilities.
Apart from support child soldiers, mass rapes and murder those who partake of the unofficial tours also impact on official tours in neighbouring countries because they are being undercut by the rebels.
There are also concerns that the rebel run gorilla treks will put the health of the gorillas at risk due to a lack of good practices. Disease can spread easily from humans to gorillas and often visitors are required to wear masks and are banned from visiting gorillas if they have an infection. There are fears that unofficial tours will not undertake these basic hygiene practices and gorillas could become infected.
It may seem really tempting to save some money on one of these unofficial tours but remember your fees could be buying a gun for a small child to go to war or to pay for mass rape of women as a weapon of war.