Gorilla habituation and the role of animal agency in conservation and tourism development at Bwindi, South Western Uganda

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EPE: Nature and Space


Discussions of gorilla habituation often emphasise human control of gorillas, whereby gorillas are usually singularly defined by their species membership. This perspective leaves little room for imagining the role of gorillas in habituation, conservation and tourism development processes. In this paper, we use insights from Actor Network Theory and more-than-human geography to explore and reconstruct the practice of gorilla habituation in order to understand gorillas as actors in habituation, conservation and tourism development at Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (here- after Bwindi), Uganda. To do so, we use the concept of relational animal agency to trace the various ways in which gorillas interact with each other, various groups of people, and their environment. Ethnographic observations, unstructured interviews and document study indicate that gorillas are ‘multiple’ and thus need to be understood beyond their species membership alone. They are involved in intricate relations with each other, with other non-human and human subjects, and their shared environment. Furthermore, gorillas are not completely and passively controlled by humans through habituation: we argue that habituation as a relational process is more complex. Gorillas also habituate other gorillas and arguably can be seen to habituate humans as well. As a result, gorillas co-produce multiple versions of the Bwindi landscape, of conservation, tourism and development practices, as well as multiple ways of being gorillas. Based on these insights, we argue that instead of focusing on control, the dynamics between gorillas and their landscapes could be harnessed to explore a dynamic range of possibilities for living together with gorillas, while continuously adapting to issues that will arise in places such as Bwindi.



Animal agency, gorilla habituation, Bwindi landscape, conservation, tourism