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First tourism venture within a mountain gorilla protected area tying local culture back to the forest it depends on.
The Uganda Wildlife Authority, the United Organisation for Batwa Development in Uganda and the Kisoro District local government today launched the much anticipated Batwa Trail in Kisoro, Uganda.
The Batwa Trail, in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, Uganda, is the first of its kind in Uganda and the region. Designed as a cultural tourism attraction within a mountain gorilla protected area, the signing of the formal agreement between the Uganda Wildlife Authority, local government, and Batwa community was a landmark occasion.
The Batwa Trail is unique in that it ties a culture back to the forest that it depends on, with multiple positive repercussions that will benefit tourists, the forest and the Batwa people, with real appreciation and respect for Batwa culture.
Even with Uganda’s history of collaborative forestry and natural resource use – beekeepers are already allowed to keep registered beehives within Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, for example- this is still a rare arrangement taking real measures to highlight the ever-present need to formally engage communities with the conservation of protected areas.
The Batwa Trail runs across the lower slopes of two volcanoes in the park, a forest containing rich biodiversity including the mountain gorillas. Led by local Batwa guides, visitors experience the forest through the unique perspective of the local people.
At a traditional Batwa house made of forest materials, the guides tell Batwa folklore and show the traditional way of making fire. Further along, young men re enact a traditional hunt for forest buffalo. Visitors can sample some of the forest’s herbs and fruit, and learn how the Batwa used the forest’s cornucopia for medicine, tools, and sustenance.
The highlight of the experience is a descent into the Garama Cave, a 200 metre-long lava tube beneath Mt. Gahinga that was used as a safe place for the last Batwa king. A performance of traditional song and dance within the rocky lair makes this an unforgettable experience.
Half of all money raised in this tourism venture will go to Uganda Wildlife Authority for conservation of the park, with the other half to the Batwa, either as direct support to the 34 guides and musicians or to a pool of money for larger development work in the larger Batwa community, estimated at about 1,500 people in Kisoro District.
The Batwa Trail was developed by Uganda Wildlife Authority, the United Organisation for Batwa Development in Uganda and Kisoro District, with technical and financial support from the International Gorilla Conservation Programme, Greater Virunga Transboundary Collaboration, USAID STAR Project, USAID PrimeWest, and the Netherlands Directorate General for International Cooperation.