Bad News Gorillas

Sorry for the recent lack of posts. In the past three weeks, one or both of us has been in Stockholm, San Diego, Bloomington, or Richmond, so it’s been a little hectic to put it lightly.

Also, we’re thinking of making the leap from this Blogger host to our own domain and Jeff’s been working hard on making that happen, which is why you’ve been hearing a lot more from me lately than from him. But don’t worry, he’ll be back soon. If and when we make the leap to our own domain, we’ll let you know, so stay tuned.

Anyhow, in a recent post on the things that interest me in Africa, I mentioned gorilla trekking, which is a possibility in Rwanda, Uganda, and Congo. I was pulling my information from a guidebook, which is of course outdated even before it hits the stores. The slow nature of research and publishing mean that guidebooks are always a step behind. I’m aware of this, so I definitely don’t treat guidebooks as bibles. The guidebook I was working from put the cost of gorilla trekking at around $250 dollars per person. I figured this had risen and thought that maybe I’d read somewhere else, perhaps on a message board, that prices were now up to around $375. Well, I spent a little more time looking into this last week and found out that in fact, prices had risen, as of July 1, 2007, to $500 per person! Wow.

On a backpacking trip, where it’s possible for two people to get by on something like $25,000 to $30,000 for an entire year, spending $1,000 on one day is a lot. In fact, it’s not even one full day; you only get to spend one hour in the presence of the gorillas (although it could take you many hours to trek to their location). And the $500 doesn’t cover lodging or food; it simply covers the privilege of spending one hour with these magnificent animals.

Which leads to the other side of the equation. These are amazing creatures that few people ever get to see in their natural habitats. It’s clearly an exclusive activity and as such, you pay the price. Plus, while Rwanda, Uganda, and Congo–all rather poor countries–could turn this into a huge profit maker by making into a Disney-type enterprise, they haven’t. In fact, they’ve been quite diligent about protecting the gorillas by instituting strict regulations and keeping the number of people allowed to see the gorillas each day to a small handful. (A maximum of 8 people can be in one group, and the number of groups depends on the number of groups of gorillas with a one-to-one ratio maintained between people groups and gorilla groups.) And while I haven’t been able to find any hard information on how the $500 fee is used, it seems that it does get put back into conservation and in supporting local people.

So really, I’m not complaining that $500 is too high of a price. Clearly, gorillas are worth $500. We just have to decide how much seeing gorillas in the wild is worth to us, and how it compares to all the other things we want to do.

If it were you, what would you do?