Remarks by U.S. Ambassador Natalie E. Brown at Home of the Gorilla Project Launch
(as prepared for delivery) | Kampala Tourism Information Center, Sheraton Hotel | August 15, 2023
It is wonderful to be with you for this project launch, to promote awareness around conservation of mountain gorillas. As you may know from my social media, earlier this year I had the opportunity to go gorilla trekking with Dr. Gladys Kalema – do read her new book Walking with Gorillas – and Bwindi Chief Warden Nelson Guma, who is here with us tonight. As I near the end of my tenure in Uganda, that experience in Bwindi among the gorillas and the chimps, our nearest relatives as humans, and what I learned from Dr. Gladys, Warden Nelson, and the rangers and trackers is one that I will deeply cherish.
Today’s event, the launch of the My Gorilla Family app, is particularly interesting to me because it combines technology with wildlife conservation, an area that the United States has been proud to support in Uganda in the past. The My Gorilla Family App and the Mountain Gorilla Festival have great promise for promoting tourism while also catalyzing conservation.
Throughout Uganda, we witness the complex relationship between wildlife and humans. The planet is changing due to shifts in populations and economies, as well as climate change, all resulting in biodiversity loss. In the face of these changes, conservation education is more critical than ever, especially because of the relationship to climate change and the seriousness of zoonotic disease.
These are some of the reasons why the U.S. government continues to invest in technology to combat illegal wildlife poaching and trafficking, prevent destruction and deforestation of protected areas, and strengthen systems for conservation and natural resource management.
Just a few years ago, I participated in the launch of Uganda’s first electronic permitting system for legally importing and exporting endangered wildlife, a critical contribution for controlling wildlife crime in Uganda (https://ug.usembassy.gov/remarks-by-u-s-ambassador-natalie-e-brown-at-cites-e-permitting-system-launch-july-29-2021/).
These efforts with the Government of Uganda, communities, and the private sector to conserve and manage biodiversity ensure lasting environmental and economic sustainability for generations to come. I should also note that the USA has been active in gorilla conservation for quite some time. The “Bwindi Trust,” developed and supported by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), was conceived in 1991 to ensure the long-term conservation of the protected area and the mountain gorillas that reside within. The contributions that gorilla tourism makes to individual livelihoods and development, for example through the income gained from gorilla-tracking tourist activities in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, generate important revenue for the surrounding communities and further conservation.
The United States has proudly supported tech for wildlife conservation, such as through the Zoohackathon, an event that brings together coders and scientists to develop innovative solutions to critical wildlife conservation challenges. During the last Zoohackathon, held at the Uganda Wildlife Education Center, the winning entry “intuitive artificial-intelligence-based” alert system that would use high-frequency sound emission sensors to prevent human-wildlife conflict by stopping hippos (and potentially other wildlife) from straying into human settlements.
I look forward to seeing how the My Gorilla Family App and the Mountain Gorilla Festival build upon other conservation and tourism promotion efforts. Key to growth in the tourism sector is extending to all the warm welcome that I have enjoyed during my time here. Discriminatory laws, policies, and practices undermine this.
Thank you again for inviting me here today to celebrate with you, and congratulations on launching this new project.