A new family of mountain gorillas, one of the world's most endangered species, is ready for interaction with tourists, the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) told AFP Friday.
"There is a new group of 13 members that has been habituated," UWA spokeswoman Lillian Nsubuga said.
Wildlife experts began habituating the family, headed by a silverback named Nduhura, in October 2006 when one of the already habituated families in Uganda showed signs of moving into the bordering Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Nduhura's family completed its two-year habituation process, designed to gradually allow them to become used to a limited human presence, the day the other group crossed the border. "The timing was really perfect," Nsubuga said.
The endangered primates draw foreign visitors to Uganda's Impenetrable Forest at a cost of 500 US dollars per visit and are a cornerstone of Uganda's renascent tourism industry.
There are around 350 mountain gorillas currently living in Uganda, half of the world's population. The remaining half is found in the Virunga park which straddles the DRC and Rwanda.
"The population in Uganda is stable and can even increase," Nsubuga added. "As for the population in DR Congo, I can't be so optimistic."
Instability and violence in eastern Congo as well as a culture of eating primate meat and poaching threaten gorilla families living across the border. Several mountain gorillas were shot dead there recently.
The drive to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, where Uganda's entire gorilla population lives, takes approximately 13 hours from the capital Kampala.
Once in the forest, tourists can track through the rough terrain for hours searching for a family, and spend no more than one hour interacting with the primates.
"Too much communication with humans is not good for these populations," Nsubuga said.
There are now four families of mountain gorillas in Uganda that are habituated to human contact.