A gorilla for a friend on Facebook or Twitter from Uganda with love

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Uganda’s “Year of the Gorilla” has been marked with the launching of ” Friend a gorilla” site, which allows users to follow the daily life of a gorilla and his/her family in the mountains of Uganda. By inviting internet users to pay a dollar a year for this virtual incursion, the Ugandan government intends to generate the necessary revenue for the protection of gorillas and boost tourism in the region.

Users of social networking sites will soon be able to check out their favourite gorillas online. Counting a true Ugandan mountain gorilla among one’s friends on FaceBook or Twitter is now a possibility thanks to the Friend-a-gorilla site, friendagorilla.org. Taken from the reality TV concept, the idea of “Friend a gorilla” is simple: It shows a wild animal, the gorilla, in its natural habitat around the clock.

The virtual journey through the Ugandan forest was made possible by virtue of state of the art information technology systems, realised by installing multiple cameras in the “impenetrable Bwindi forest”, located in south-western Uganda, where the gorillas live.

“Because we cannot physically satisfy global demand to track gorillas we have decided to use technology and bring these gorillas into the sitting rooms of people around the globe, by positioning cameras in the wild,” Moses Mapesa Wafula, Executive Director the Ugandan authorities for wildlife, told AFP. Indeed, a single click is all one needs to add a Gorilla to one’s Facebook and/or Twitter friends.

In addition to its presumed altruistic value, the Friend-a-gorilla initiative, which goes for dollar per year, satisfies a dual purpose: to finance the protection of a gorilla, an endangered species, and boost the tourism industry in the region. As the number one Ugandan tourist attraction, the mountain gorilla’s fame precedes it. In 2008, approximately 600 000 amateurs were in Uganda to see gorillas.

Each tourist who wanted a first hand experience with a Gorilla paid a license fee of $ 500. The financial benefits were godsend, especially for local populations. It made up 20% of the total income of the national parks.

The estimated total population of mountain gorillas stand at 720, with 340 of them in Uganda has 340 of them. The rest of the gorilla population is distributed in areas bordering park areas around Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The launching of the “Friend a gorilla” campaign could finally help the Ugandan government increase the number of gorillas on their land.

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