Mgahinga Visitor Center: Open Doors to a Brighter Future in Uganda
On July 7, 2006, the Mgahinga Gorilla National Park Visitor Center was officially opened, welcoming tourists who come to southern Uganda to trek the endangered mountain gorillas. The opening of the visitor center marks an important milestone for ecotourism in the park. The visitor center will enhance tourism services and facilities, thereby contributing to increased revenues. It will also help educate both international tourists and Ugandan visitors about the park’s endangered inhabitants.
AWF’s Virunga Heartland – a vast region in central Africa which includes Mgahinga Park – is home to all of the world’s endangered mountain gorillas. Yet their habitat is surrounded by a large and growing human population – a population that is still very poor. AWF believes that unless the park is managed as part of a larger landscape, outside pressures will eventually overwhelm the park’s resources and increase the threat to the mountain gorilla population.
The Mgahinga Visitor Center consists of an exhibit hall which focuses on mountain gorilla ecology, the geology of the Virunga Mountains, and the history and current conservation strategies of the park. Information related to local Ugandan culture is also a part of the exhibition. The visitor center also includes an education and training center to hold workshops and meetings that will allow local communities to address conservation issues, and an elevated platform where visitors can take in the sweeping views of the rich surrounding landscape.
The visitor center was developed by the International Gorilla Conservation Program (IGCP), of which AWF is a founder, with funding from USAID and other donors including the Prince of Denmark through WWF, Sheraton Hotel in Kampala, Jane Goodall Institute, Africare (Uganda), and Hima Cement Factory.
An opening ceremony took place at the visitor center, with an address by Ugandan Minister of State for Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities, Hon. Serapio Rokundo. The event was attended by AWF and IGCP staff and their partners, including the USAID Uganda Mission Director, local politicians, park officials and local communities.