Is Tracking Gorillas Ethical?

Questions like this are tricky, mainly because only one of the parties involved — that would be us, the humans — can truly understand what’s happening and why. Let us explain …

Mountain gorillas were almost extinct by the early 1980s, and only a concerted conservation effort brought them back from the brink. But wildlife protection isn’t cheap. This is partly for reasons that many parks need to deal with — rangers, infrastructure, management and admin staff — and partly because the mountain gorillas’ traditional home region has often been fairly volatile. So where do relatively poor African nations find the money to pay for wildlife protection when much of the local human population is struggling to make ends meet?

Silverback in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park; 61mm, f/6.3, 1/320, ISO400

Enter nature-based tourism. Just like safaris in other parks, gorilla tracking is a way to raise important revenue as well as increase awareness of and interest in wildlife. Because of the unique experience — approaching on foot, the limited number of places where gorillas can be seen — gorilla tracking is relatively expensive (though I would argue definitely worth it). We can easily make the argument that this is the price they have to pay for their protection. The trouble, of course, is that we can’t explain that to them: all they know is that we’re there.

All the gorillas you can visit have been habituated. This is a long process — it takes several years — during which gorilla families are gradually exposed to the presence of humans. But do they like it? That’s trickier to answer. Gorillas are very smart, and often very expressive. Get too close, and they will let you know that you’re too close. They are highly sentient beings, and should be treated as such. As long as you behave responsibly and respectfully, your gorilla tracking will be a good thing to do.

Don’t miss our extensive interview with Marcus and head to his website for even more.