Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Coronavirus Pandemic (COVID-19) & Its Effect on Safaris and Gorilla Trekking in Uganda, Rwanda & Congo

The whole world has been engulfed by the highly contagious Coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) which started from Wuhan in China back in 2019 and has eventually spread everywhere. The virus can be spread through coughs, sneezing or talking so it can enter the human body through the nose, mouth or eyes.
To date, there is no known medicine or cure for COVID-19 and the number of infections worldwide have continued to soar forcing most countries to declare total lock-down to control / slow down the spread to enable the health systems to cope.
Africa has not been an exception and most countries have announced travel bans and total lock down. As a result, Africa’s famous safari industry has greatly been affected as bookings continue to plunge and cancellations on the increase.
Tanzania, which is one of the leading destinations for safari in Africa has not yet announced a lock down but the number of infections there has rapidly increased which is worrying to the rest of the East African countries.
Gorilla trekking is the next big thing for most travelers to Africa and because of the pandemic, the Gorilla parks have all been closed. Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park will be closed up to 1st June 2020 but the closure could be extended if the situation doesn’t significantly improve.
Congo’s Virunga, Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and Mgahinga National Park in Uganda, remain closed as the authorities continue to monitor the situation and advise on the next steps. The gorilla parks in particular were closed because the Gorillas share 98% human DNA and as such can easily contract the virus which has no known cure and they are already highly endangered species!
The survival of these Gorillas however, depends much on the revenue obtained from selling the Gorilla permit to visitors looking to take part in Gorilla trekking which supports the authorities in executing their duties to protect the park, fend off poachers and ensure their survival.
The local communities where these Gorillas live also earn a living by working as porters and selling souvenirs to visitors who go trekking. With this closure therefore and the looming Coronavirus pandemic, there is surely much at stake.
So, what next? Because of the uncertainty of this situation, some tourists have panicked to cancel their trips and lost money while others have abandoned the idea of visiting Africa altogether and you might now be contemplating what to do!
Should I cancel my safari / Gorilla trek in Africa? Is it possible to rescheduled my safari or when will the parks open?
If you are planning to go on a safari in Africa or Gorilla trek, here is what to expect and what you can do;
1.      Stay safe; the virus has no known cure yet so follow the guidelines provided by the authorities in your country and stay safe and protect everyone around you from the virus.
2.      Do not cancel your booking; if you have already booked a trip, you do not cancel. This will hurt the industry more and threatens the survival of the wildlife. You can instead reschedule your trip to a later date or move it to 2021. This is what the park authorities advise. Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) for example, allows tour operators to reschedule the already booked gorilla permits twice up to March 2022. This means, you can change your dates twice between now and March 2022 so you do not have to cancel your trip.
3.      Book your trip; yes, the situation is uncertain but if you have concrete plans of going on safari or Gorilla trek this year, you need to plan early and confirm your booking. There is a faint chance that this virus will be controlled and tourism will resume especially towards the end of the year (September to December)!
If that happens, there will be many looking to go and you could miss out. It is best that you book with a local operator and agree to make payment on arrival so you don’t have to commit any deposit upfront
If you are planning a Gorilla trek in particular, you can book only the Gorilla permit so that if you are unable to go, you can always reschedule or your permit can be sold and get your refund. You can get in touch with a reliable local tour operator like Gorilla Holidays Uganda for your gorilla trekking trips in Uganda, Rwanda and Congo.
All in all, it is important to observe the following guidelines;
·       Stay home and away from public gatherings
·       Regularly wash your hands with soap and water
·       Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with 60% and above alcohol
·       Do not touch your mouth, nose and eyes with unwashed hands
·       If you have to step out, wear a face mask
·       Lastly, find some form of exercise which you can do from home.
STAY SAFE and we will travel again soon.