A Southern New Hampshire University senior who will accompany one of her professors to Africa to study the interaction between tourists and gorillas says she was more nervous about the shots needed for international travel than she was about living in the wild in Uganda.
Heidi Quigley, a communications major, will help associate professor Michele Goldsmith with research into the effects of repeated exposure of gorillas to tourists who spend hefty sums to visit with the primates in their habitat.
Goldsmith is a biological anthropologist who holds the Christos and Mary Papoutsy Distinguished Chair in Ethics and Social Responsibility. Christos Papoutsy was a successful electronics entrepreneur who has lectured and written on entrepreneurship and ethics.
Going to Africa and spending three weeks among gorillas while living in a tent in central Uganda doesn't worry Quigley.
"My family is super-excited, my parents are so supportive of what I do. They're not nervous about it,” Quigley said. “My friends think I'm crazy."
Goldsmith's research concentrates not only on the impact tourism has on the gorillas, but also on how close encounters with human's closest relatives in the animal kingdom affects tourists.
Guided gorilla tracking excursions have grown in popularity in the hills of Uganda. Tourists clamor for government permits to spend an hour interacting with gorillas in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest.
Tha dventures are a major source of tourism revenue for Uganda, leading to more and more groups of gorillas being sought out for contact with more and more humans.
Goldsmith's study concentrates on the impact the contact will have on the long-term ecosystem that supports the gorillas.
"The idea behind the tourism started when gorillas were being butchered, even when they had no value to anybody,” Goldsmith said. “They were just being slaughtered. Their hands were being made into ashtrays."
The gorilla tourism industry has raised money to protect the animals. Goldsmith's research examines the ecological cost.