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Uganda Wildlife Authority Launches New Gorilla App

The Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) has officially launched an application dubbed “My Gorilla Family.” The app is a pioneer initiative to protect Uganda’s mountain gorilla population, leveraging technology to create sustainable sources of non-trekking revenues to fund conservation.

RoundBob and The Naturalist, Ugandan conservation enterprises working with the Uganda Wildlife Authority, launched the subscription-based mobile application that allows users to join a gorilla family and contribute to saving this endangered species by indulging in activities that a user would with their own family.

This was coupled with the launch of a My Gorilla Family Festival, an event that will see local and international artists performing in Kisoro in the southwest of the country this coming May 2022.

For as little as $2 per month, users will receive an all-access pass to the Bwindi/Mgahinga Conservation areas, home to more than 50% of the world’s remaining mountain gorillas.

Users will be able to follow the gorillas’ daily excursions and family migrations through virtual tracking.

They can celebrate their birthdays and new births, and receive updates from the rangers who protect and know them best. One can follow as many gorilla families as they wish, knowing that their subscription is going towards protecting these glorious creatures and building the local communities around them.

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The launch, held at Protea Kampala Skyz Hotel in Naguru, Kampala, was attended by notable conservationists and others in the tourism industry. Panelists included Lilly Ajarova, CEO of the Uganda Tourism Board; Dr. Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka, founder and CEO of Conservation Through Public Health; and Stephen Masaba, Director of Tourism & Business Development for the Uganda Wildlife Authority.

Fidelis Kanyamunyu, reformed poacher and Honorary Wildlife Officer with the Uganda Wildlife Authority as well as Co-Founder of Home of the Gorillas, is a passionate advocate for the conservation of gorillas and the communities that live around them. It was his idea to come up with new ways to generate revenue to support both conservation efforts and to give back to local communities. “As a child, I went hunting in the forest and grew into a poacher when the conservation areas were carved out,” Kanyamunyu said. “I am now known as an advocate for conservation and continue to champion community awareness.

“I looked at the forest and said, my father and our ancestors used to get a livelihood; how can I get a livelihood without going there? I arrived on tourism. When we habituated the gorillas, we brought the investors to build hotels; then there was a gap of marketing the gorillas, because people only come in July and August.”

David Gonahosa, Co-Founder, was approached by Fedelis who told him that we need to do something about the gorillas in the Bwindi area. Said David, “…So I thought initially we could use technology. There are about 1,063 gorillas left in the world, and the masses out there don’t know. We just felt that technology is one way to let the world not only know but get involved in the whole process of trying to save the mountain gorillas.”

He added: “Home of the Gorillas Initiative, in partnership with Uganda Wildlife Authority, seeks to commercialize activities that generate non-tracking revenues through leveraging technology to enable global community engagement with the gorillas, thereby achieving alternative channels to fund conservation.” Gonahasa further explained the importance of this initiative, stating: “In addition to the subscription-based application [of] My Gorilla Family, the Home of the Gorillas initiative will launch the first conservation limited NFT (Non Fungible Token) collection linked to the +200 habituated individual mountain gorillas in the wild.”

Expressing why individuals and corporate organizations need to appreciate and be more concerned about prevalent global challenges, Terence Chambati, Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer of Home of the Gorillas, shared how they are contributing towards improving awareness and ownership.

“We all need to be conservationists, regardless of our background or physical location.”

“By leveraging technology, we are making more people aware of this natural capital we are blessed with, resulting in more mountain gorilla ambassadors globally.”

Lily Ajarova, Chief Executive Officer of the Uganda Tourism Board, commended the initiative, saying: “Uganda is absolutely ready for an application and a festival like this. It is time for the world to come and see how much more Uganda has to offer.”

As a leading scientist and conservationist at the forefront of gorilla conservation efforts in East Africa, Dr. Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka emphasized the importance of community inclusion: “It is important to note the investment opportunities presented by conservation.”

Sam Mwandha, Executive Director of the Uganda Wildlife Authority said: “ The Home of the Gorilla initiative is intended to let the world know the mountain gorillas, their habitats, and the people around who are actually helping us to conserve their habitat – not only the staff but also the communities – and this provides information to the world about mountain gorillas, about conservation, about the challenges, and so it fits in very well with our mandate that is to conserve the wildlife and our vegetation.”

He added: “So as the people know, they will conserve wildlife but also it will attract people who can visit  the mountain gorillas, and when they visit they will pay a small fee that aggregated together provides the resources that we need to do conservation. So the campaign is something that we are excited about so it will provide support for us.”

On December 7, 2009, UWA launched a similar campaign at Sony Pictures Studios LA. The USA dubbed the star-studded event as #friendagorilla which saw Hollywood stars Jason Biggs, Kristy Wu, and Simon Curtis on a campaign to create awareness of the endangered mountain gorillas through a short film that was launched to woo the public to sponsor a gorilla online through the #friendagorilla campaign. The campaign began at the home of the mountain gorillas in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park in Uganda where the trio were able to track and friend the gorillas.

With the proliferation and affordability of smart phones, including the application on Google PlayStore growing rapidly since then, #mygorilla family is expected to roll out to a wider audience with more viral success. For more information, follow @mygorillafamily or visit gorilla.family. iOS and web application versions will be available at the end of February 2022.

Uganda’s mountain gorillas have seen a sharp decline in tourist trekking revenue since the COVID-19 pandemic, which has had a devastating effect on conservation efforts. This initiative comes as a relief at a time when the sector is steadily witnessing resilience hope and recovery.

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Tony Ofungi - eTN Uganda

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