Happy World Tourism Day!
It’s World Tourism Day! To celebrate, the U.S. Forest Service Central Africa Program is excited to highlight our program in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where we are working with government and non-profit partners to improve ecotourism facilities, train eco-guides, and encourage regional cooperation.
There are very few places left on earth where one can see the eastern lowland gorilla in its natural habitat. With less than 4,000 individuals left in the wild, these gorillas are extremely endangered and are only found in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Kahuzi-Biega National Park, a UNESCO world heritage site located just west of Lake Kivu, is home to one of the last remaining troops, in addition to elephants, eastern chimpanzees, and other plant and animal species only found in the region. These creatures inhabit a spectacular landscape of beautiful tropical forests and breathtaking waterfalls.
In order to protect this irreplaceable park, the U.S. Forest Service, in partnership with the Wildlife Conservation Society, is supporting ecotourism initiatives to bolster the park’s capacities to receive visitors. Efforts like these help protect and preserve forests by making them desirable travel destinations, creating valuable economic opportunities for the people who live nearby.
Above and below: Kahuzi-Biega staff get hands on experience using a clinometer, which helps trail builders understand the effect of slope on trail construction and maintenance.
“…they were encouraged to remind tourists to be respectful of their environment, and to take time to stop and appreciate the magical sounds of the forest, as they not only provide a home to countless creatures, but are also a vital and irreplaceable part of our global ecosystem.”
During this exchange supported by the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Central Africa Regional Program for the Environment (CARPE), guides and tourism managers from Kahuzi-Biega National Park had the opportunity to tour facilities at Nyungwe National Park in Rwanda and identify ways to improve visitor experience at their own park. They tracked chimpanzees with Nyungwe staff, learning about how best to locate the chimpanzee families living in Kahuzi-Biega, how to map their habitats, and how to habituate them to human presence. They received trainings on the importance of eco-guides remaining calm and professional, on how to best engage visitors with conservation and development topics, and on how to acquaint tourists with local communities and their customs on tours. In addition, they were encouraged to remind tourists to be respectful of their environment, and to take time to stop and appreciate the magical sounds of the forest, as they not only provide a home to countless creatures, but are also a vital and irreplaceable part of our global ecosystem.
Below: Members of a local cooperative perform in front of the welcome center at Nyungwe National Park in Rwanda
The future of Kahuzi-Biega National Park looks bright, and exchanges with neighboring parks are allowing staff to share valuable experiences and knowledge. Additionally, exchanges give these parks the opportunity to develop collaborative and complimentary relationships that will only increase the overall touristic appeal of the region. The continued support of national and international partners for capacity-building initiatives like these is an important step in ensuring that this unique part of Africa can once again be celebrated as a world-renowned tourist destination.
To learn more about Kahuzi-Biega National Park, please click here.