Gorilla Gossip Scotched by Ugandan Reappearance
KAMPALA A family of "missing" gorillas reappeared in Uganda, scotching speculation in the national media that they had been lured to neighbouring Rwanda.
Ugandan wildlife officials have consistently scoffed at the flurry of conspiracy theories in the Ugandan national press, which accused Rwanda of spiriting the apes away to beef up its tourist trade.
Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) director Moses Mapesa told reporters in Kampala on Wednesday that the Nyakagezi group of gorillas, who "disappeared" from Uganda's Mgahinga National Park in November had reappeared last week with a new baby in tow.
"So contrary to speculation by some people that the Nyakagezi group was being 'held' in Rwanda, we were always confident this group would return," Mapesa said.
The eight Nyakagezi mountain gorillas were the only group tame enough for tourists to view in the reserve. Their disappearance from Mgahinga in November was a blow to a major money-spinner for Uganda and sparked a gorilla gossip frenzy.
Ugandan newspapers, always keen to cater to a sense of rivalry with Rwanda, poured out a stream of conspiracy theories over the disappearance, accusing Rwanda of "stealing" them to attract the lucrative gorilla-spotting tourist trade.
Ugandan wildlife officials have maintained the great apes were meandering around in search of food.
Mapesa said mountain gorillas often travel more than 25 km (15 miles) in search of food, comparing them to drinkers going to different bars. Mgahinga in western Uganda is only about 4 km from the Rwandan border.
Tourists pay up to $360 a day for a chance to glimpse the apes in Uganda's Mgahinga and Bwindi Impenetrable Forest national park near the borders of Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo. That's more money than most Ugandans make in a year.
Mountain gorillas live in the densely forested mountains and volcanoes straddling Uganda, Rwanda and Congo. Officials estimate their number is now at 700.
Only Rwanda and Uganda have managed to attract lucrative foreign tourists to view their gorillas. Warring bands of militia make Congo's reserves too dangerous to visit.
Mapesa said ape-tracking would resume once UWA was satisfied that the gorillas were ready for it and that Ugandan and Rwandan wildlife authorities worked closely together.