14 November 2006

East Africa: Gorilla Fees Harmonised

Nairobi — UGANDA , RWANDA AND the Democratic Republic of Congo have agreed to harmonise fees charged for gorilla tracking permits in order not to lose revenue to the migratory behaviour of the gorillas across the two countries' borders.

The countries want to review and standardise gorilla tracking permit fees to $500 for foreign non residents and $475 for foreign residents as of July 1, 2007, to back the plan to manage the migratory trans-boundary gorillas.

The three countries charge different fees, which makes it difficult to share revenue when the primates crossed borders.

Currently Rwanda and Uganda charge non-residents $375 while Congo charges $335. Rwanda offers a 10 per cent commission as an incentive to tour operators to market their permits and Uganda recently agreed to give the same percentage to its tour operators.

"It was agreed that the migratory gorilla groups such as Uganda's Nyakagezi group be visited by tourists in the host country and the revenues accruing be shared at 50 per cent between the country of origin and the host country," said Moses Mapesa, the executive director Uganda Wildlife Authority.

With the Nyakagezi group in Rwanda, the country of origin would be Uganda, where the gorillas were habituated and the host country, Rwanda, where they migrated to and the revenue would be shared equally at 50 per cent.

A memorandum of understating trans-boundary tourism was signed between Uganda's UWA, Rwanda's tourism management body (ORTPN) and Congo's Conservation Authority in May.

This was after tensions emerged between Rwanda and Uganda over migratory gorilla groups that cross borders in search of food, leading to the country of origin missing out on revenue.

Tensions escalated last year when Uganda accused Rwanda of feeding the gorillas to keep them on its side and had to suspend gorilla tourism in Mgahinga Gorilla National park when a group of 11 gorilla groups led by an alpha male, Nyakagezi, crossed the border into Rwanda and stayed there for nearly a year.

After a number of similar incidents a Joint Permanent Commission between Uganda and Rwanda signed the memorandum of understanding last month.

Before that, a trans-boundary working relationship between the three authorities managing mountain gorillas of Uganda, Rwanda and Congo was in place.

The $500 tracking fee will be endorsed by a meeting scheduled to take place on November 14 in Kigali.

Mountain gorilla tourism is offered in Uganda, Rwanda and Congo and most tour operators selling gorilla permits operate in the three countries.

Uganda Wildlife officials say uniform pricing will further cement the collaboration among the three countries and also harmonise tourism services and fees in the East African Community, which Rwanda is about to join.

"Charging the same fee is a positive trend in regional co-operation as it will simplify reconciliation of trans-boundary pricing emanating from tracking the Nyakagezi group of Mgahinga," said Mr Mapesa.

The move will be in line with the East African countries' intention of harmonising their tourism operations.

The countries are already contemplating charging a single fee for tourists visiting sites in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.

Among other things, the three tourism boards have agreed to promote East Africa as a single tourism destination, have common promotional materials and publish a single EAC tourist brochure.

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