Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda on Thursday signed a five-year joint strategic plan aimed at protecting gorillas and pursuing promotional activities for Virunga massif.

The Greater Virunga Transboundary Collaboration (GVTC) was signed by officials from Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN), Rwanda Development Board (RDB) and Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA).

The three countries also agreed to work together to improve on the ways of generating revenue from tourism and how to share the benefits. The deal, according to Dr Andrew Seguya, an official from the Uganda Wildlife Authority will help protect and conserve the rare mountain gorillas. Gorilla safaris are a major contributor to tourism earnings in Uganda and Rwanda.

Dr Seguya also said the new strategic plan puts emphasis on advertisement as key to boosting tourism sector in the region. He added that the partnership will ensure the survival of gorillas and other animals in the region.

Gorillas in Virunga National Park“These mountain gorillas move from one country to another regardless of the borders. We, therefore, need to ensure that their security is guaranteed across the borders,” Seguya said. The deal follows the one signed 10 years ago, which, according to Seguya, did not adequately address the challenges encountered in the field of gorilla protection in the region.

Rica Rwigamba, the head of Tourism and Conservation Department at Rwanda Development Board, welcomed the move, saying it will promote tourism in the Greater Virunga massif.

“We want to help the population around the Virunga massif. The new framework aims at improving the livelihood of people living around the park region. We welcome other development projects around the region,” Rwigamba said.

Dr Cosma Wilungula, Director General of ICCN, told The New Times that the partnership will also help settle disputes among the three countries. “The move shows that we naturally have common resources- mountain Gorilla-which keep us as family. This is a unique, powerful natural resource which cannot be found elsewhere in the world,” Wilungula said.

He said during the last ten year-strategy, the number of gorillas increased from around 600 to around 800.

Gorilla tourism in Uganda and Rwanda are amongst the highest grossing tourism activities and remain the highest profile attraction the countries are known for, in spite of efforts to diversify the products and promote visits to other national parks and game reserves too. Congo in contrast, as a result of conflict over the past decades in the East of the country, has not been able to develop the full potential of gorilla tracking tourism and related activities and therefore is keen to eventually reap a peace dividend when full order is eventually restored. Hopefully this new strategy will go a long way in boosting gorilla tourism in each of these countries.