Rwanda Unveils Virtual Rwanda Gorilla Trekking Safaris During the Lockdown
Mountain Gorillas trekking in Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo were suspended amid fears that they might also be able to catch the coronavirus. Mountain gorillas also referred to as Gorilla beringei beringei, are endangered animals that are only found in the high-elevation forests of Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. All three of these countries have registered human coronavirus cases, leading conservationists to fear that the great apes might be at risk too.
Rwanda was the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to order a total shutdown because of the coronavirus. A number of Rwanda safari destinations are currently temporarily closed to curb the spread of coronavirus, just like anywhere else.
However, this week, the Rwanda Development Board (RDB), in partnership with The Ellen Fund, Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund and Habitat XR, announced that they are bringing the country’s Rwanda gorilla trekking safari experience to people’s living rooms through a Virtual Reality (VR). The experience is being taken online to enable tourists and other people enjoy a Rwanda tour of some of the country’s touristic features.
A Virtual Reality film, launched as the world celebrated this year’s Earth Day on April 22, allows people to get a virtual Rwanda gorilla tour of the mountain gorillas in the Volcanoes National Park from the comfort of their homes.
“Isn’t it incredible? It’s like you’re with the gorillas!” Ellen DeGeneres, who’s currently building a conservation centre in Rwanda, said of the new VR of mountain gorillas.
This five-minute immersive cinematic virtual reality experience, the film brings you face-to-face with amazing and famous mountain gorillas in their natural habitat. It feels like reality!
With your personal Virtual Reality headset, you will escape reality and go on a Rwanda gorilla trek with the beautiful, curious endangered mountain gorillas in Rwanda. The film is free and can be viewed on partner platforms such as Oculus, Within, Samsung Virtual Reality, Littlstar and VeeR. A snapshot of the film can also be viewed without a Virtual Reality headset online.
Belise Kariza, RDB’s Chief Tourism Officer, said global tourism has been greatly affected by a coronavirus, which has forced countries to suspend gorilla safaris. “We are sad we can’t welcome visitors to see and experience our beautiful country during their African safari right now,” she said. “However, it’s in everyone’s best interest to stay safe at home while we work with our partners to create and share immersive content like this Gorillas Virtual Reality film,” she added.
Mountain gorillas are some of Rwanda’s famous tourism offerings. But as a result of COVID-19, visits to these endangered animals have been halted to contain the virus.
Demand for virtual tourism is growing as countries attempt to maintain the visibility of their tourist attractions even as the coronavirus continues to take its toll on the industry.
In South Africa, for instance, Kruger National Park already provides twice-daily virtual Africa safaris.
Why was Gorilla trekking in Uganda, Rwanda and Congo were suspended?
As the virus infects more people around the world, conservationists are warning of the risk of Africa’s endangered mountain gorilla. Following the outbreak, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature has called for people to stay at least 33 feet (10 meters) away from gorillas at all times an increase on the usually recommended safety distance of 23 feet (7 meters).
Alongside this, human visits including Uganda, Rwanda, Congo gorilla safaris are to be reduced to the minimum required to ensure the great apes’ continued health and safety.
How are Mountain gorillas at risk of coronavirus?
Mountain gorillas are prone to some respiratory illnesses that afflict humans. Tourists interested in gorilla tours in Uganda, Rwanda and Congo are restricted from visiting them if they have any illness including flu. A common cold can kill a gorilla, according to the World Wide Fund for Nature, one reason why tourists tracking gorillas are generally not permitted to get too close.
Congo’s Virunga National Park, home to about a third of the world’s mountain gorillas, is barring visitors interested in gorilla trekking congo safaris until June 1, citing advice from scientific experts indicating that primates, including mountain gorillas, are likely susceptible to complications arising from the COVID-19.
Around 1,000 mountain gorillas live in protected areas in Congo, Uganda, and Rwanda, for whom tourism is an important source of revenue. But COVID-19 has led to restrictive measures. Virunga National Park‘s decision has been welcomed by conservationists in the region.
Tourism revenue is key in protecting mountain gorillas as authorities can use some of the money to help local communities or invest in anti-poaching activities. A gorilla tracking permit costs $600 now until June 31st and $700 starting July in Uganda. Thousands of tourists pay each year for Uganda gorilla tours. A similar permit costs $1,500 in Rwanda and $400 in Congo.
More About Rwanda’s Lockdown
All unnecessary movements outside homes were banned until the lockdown is done except for essential services such as health care and shopping for groceries.
Both public and private workers were ordered to work from home to help prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
Rwanda also closed its borders completely, except for goods and cargo and returning citizens. However, they have to be quarantined for two weeks (14 Days).
Meanwhile, authorities have warned business owners not to increase prices of basic commodities.
Public gatherings like places of worship were banned, and those who defy the orders are to be arrested.
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