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Dates set for Uganda’s debut gorilla festival

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By Gilbert Mwijuke

Uganda will hold its debut gorilla festival on October 6-8 at the foothill of the Virunga Mountain range in Kisoro district.

Organised by the Mgahinga Cultural and Crafts Centre, the three-day festival is expected to attract over 200 attendees from within the country and abroad, including conservationists, tourism industry players and domestic and international tourists.

According to Herbert Mugisha, Mgahinga Cultural and Crafts Centre’s top honcho, the festival’s main goal is to highlight the plight of the critically endangered mountain gorillas that reside in the Virunga Massif, a chain of eight volcanic mountains that straddle Rwanda, Uganda and the persistently volatile Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Even though the mountain gorillas are shared by the three countries, it’s only Rwanda that has been dedicating an entire annual festival to the iconic primates, yet more than 50 per cent of the world’s remaining mountain gorillas reside in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable and Mgahinga Gorilla national parks.

Rwanda’s annual gorilla festival – dubbed Kwita Izina – is a baby gorilla naming ceremony that attracts more than 20,000 regional and international tourists, dignitaries, conservations, locals and the international media.

Some of the attendees at last year’s Kwita Izina ceremony. Photo: Gilbert Mwijuke

During this year’s Kwita Izina, slated for September 7, 18 baby gorillas will be named at the foot of the Virunga Mountains near the entrance to the Volcanoes National Park where the majestic primates reside.

Mountain gorillas are the region’s star attraction as they draw thousands of tourists and millions of their cash every year.

Activities within the festival

Some of the activities within Uganda’s debut gorilla festival will include cycling, village walks, showcasing of local cuisines, cultural music performances, caldera hills expeditions, mountain hiking and caving, among others.

One of the Ultimate Cycling Uganda members cycling at the foothill of the Virunga Mountain range. Photo: Ultimate Cycling Uganda

“The key activity during the festival will be cycling, which we are organising in partnership with Ultimate Cycling Uganda and the Uganda Cycling Federation,” Mugisha said.

Organisers of the festival are putting more emphasis on cycling because it’s “the most environmentally friendly means of transport and conserving the environment around us is our ultimate goal,” Mugisha told Chwezi Traveller.

“We also want the locals to be part of the tourism value chain and there is no better way of connecting tourists with the local community than through cycling,” Mugisha added.

During the event, every rider will be obliged to plant a bamboo tree. Mugisha says that bamboo trees are the centerpiece of the Virunga Massif as both mountain gorillas and communities in the area depend heavily on these trees.

Gorillas depend on bamboo shoots for food while people depend on bamboo for construction of houses, making crafts and firewood, among many other things.

A silverback mountain gorilla in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park. Mountain gorillas depend on bamboo shoots for food. Photo: Gilbert Mwijuke

Planting of more bamboo trees will help curtail conflicts between the local community and park rangers, Mugisha argues, citing an example of a recent event in which a local was shot allegedly trying to harvest bamboo trees from the park.

During the festival, cyclists will be helped by children to plant the bamboo trees as a way of inculcating into the young generation a culture of planting trees.

Promoting Kisoro’s new tourism products

The other major objective of the gorilla festival is to showcase Kisoro district’s new tourism products that have recently been developed by Mugisha’s organisation and the Uganda Tourism Board.

Caving, caldera expeditions, ‘gorilla cycling’ and homestays are some of the latest tourism products in Kisoro, Mugisha says.

There are two caves that have been identified around Mount Mgahinga – caves estimated to be thousands of years old. Mgahinga Cultural and Crafts Centre has already trained guides and acquired the necessary equipment for caving expeditions.

Currently, there is only one cave in the area that is open to tourists – the Garama Cave that has been developed and packaged as the Batwa Trail.

Transport, fees and accommodation

The gorilla festival attendees will be required to pay an admission fee, starting from of Ugsh200,000 (about $55), which will cover transportation from Kampala, meals and all tour activities during the festival.

Participants will have camping options. Photo: Red Rocks Rwanda

Participants will pay an extra fee for accommodation, with options ranging from tents for those interested in camping, as well as low-end and high-end lodges and hotels for those who can afford them.

This article first appeared on Chwezi Traveller

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