The Uganda Wildlife Authority is set to launch online gorilla-tracking, to promote tourism around the primates globally, previously only done on a small-scale by private tour operators.
Through the friendagorilla.org website to be launched this month, gorilla lovers worldwide will have a chance to befriend any of Uganda’s gorillas from the seven habituated groups at a cost of one dollar or its equivalent.
The website will also have other sections like Geo-Track, where one can track gorillas using actual Global Positioning System co-ordinates that the authority’s gorilla trackers will be provided with regularly. In addition, the site will have a section for virtual tracking.
Gorilla lovers will be able to track the gorillas online in real time. Fees for the electronic tracking are yet to be determined. Currently, the authority charges $500 per permit per day to track a single family.
We shall have cameras placed strategically in the forest and when you log on, you can see a gorilla moving in the forest from your screen,” said Thomas Slater Jr, art director at QG Saatchi &Saatchi, the company working on the project.
To befriend the primates, subscribers will pay the one dollar by way of short messages using their mobile phones, Master or Visa card. Online trackers will able to add gorillas as friends on Internet social sites such as Facebook, Myspace and Twitter.
If it succeeds, the project will make $700,000 annually. The money will be used to hire more trackers to bring the number to 45 from 25; buy communication equipment for the trackers and a special power generator that is less noisy.
“The money raised will also go towards conservation efforts through community projects and help bring the gorillas to the living rooms of many more people,” said Eunice Mahoro, tourism director at UWA.
The online gorilla tracking project is one of the major marketing efforts undertaken by the government, considering that gorillas are the country’s biggest tourism attraction. Last year the industry earned the country $600 million, of which $225 million was from gorilla tourism.
Corporates have also been given a chance to support the project by sponsoring web pages for a whole year.
The new marketing strategy coincides with the UN declaration of 2009 is the Year of the Gorilla.
The aim is to raise awareness on the need to conserve gorillas, which are considered endangered because of human activities like habitat destruction through logging, burning and clearing of land for agriculture, hunting and trapping by poachers, diseases and armed conflicts.
There are about 720 gorillas left worldwide, half of which are in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. The rest are found in the Virunga habitat shared between Rwanda, Uganda and DR Congo, with Uganda’s Mgahinga Gorilla national park protecting the northern pvolcanic slopes.
The designers of the online strategy are optimistic that the new marketing tool will attract more gorilla tourists from the United States and Europe where millions of people have access to the Internet and use social sites.