President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda has ordered that gorilla and chimp tracking activities remain close while the world tries to contain the Coronavirus pandemic. President Museveni cited the easy transmission of diseases between man and primates, saying “We do not want the virus to spread to our relatives.”
The President stated this during the 14th presidential address to the nation on the COVID-19 situation which has led to a lockdown of the country since March 21, 2020.
Therefore, the Impenetrable Bwindi National Park for the Mountain Gorillas and Kibale Forest for chimpanzees are to remain shut.
Also remaining closed are the rest of the country’s national parks including The Uganda Wildlife Education Centre in Entebbe and Jane Goodall Chimpanzee Sanctuary on Ngamba Island (which sadly has also been affected by a recent rise in water levels on Lake Victoria). Both have had to appeal for funds to feed their animals due to a lack of revenues from entrance collections.
President Museveni acknowledged that Ugandans living abroad were spending US$1.3 billion per annum – more than US$416 million in foreign earnings from coffee, but less than US$1.6 billion from tourism.
“International borders and airports remain closed to avoid the importation of new cases,” he added.
This is in contrast to a statement by neighboring Tanzania’s President John Pombe Magufuli welcoming tourists to the country.
Generally, the tourism sector led by the trade associations including the Association of Uganda Tour Operators (AUTO), Uganda Safari Guides Association (USAGA), and Uganda Hotel Owners Association (UHOA) under their apex body Uganda Tourism Association (UTA) have been the most-affected sector and have continued to engage in dialogue through Zoom and Facebook conferencing moderated most recently by the Uganda Tourism Board (UTB) and industry experts in order to come up with a “white paper.”
With business grinding to a halt, they are seeking assistance from government and donor agencies to support their employees and rent in arrears; rescheduling of loans mainly taken by hotels and lodges marketing; and to create a “Tourism Fund” for micro-credit, loans, social security, and tax benefits for sustainable business operations.
It seems the animals have noticed the absence of tourists since the lockdown. At the Rhino Sanctuary, the rhinos are now congregating at the park headquarters in groups. There are nights where over 15 rhino are in one area of the sanctuary headquarters. By the early morning, they all leave again to go back to the bush, it was said in a facebook post from Rhino Fund Uganda.
Although the mountain gorillas often wander out of the forest into the communities and lodges, their visits seem to portray a reversal of roles.