In late 1997, Allard Blom (WWF) established the Primate Habituation Programme (PHP) under Dzanga-Sangha’s Ecotourism Programme. The PHP has been a main WWF focus to protect and better understand the threatened and little-known western lowland gorilla. Its aim is to habituate gorillas for tourism and research and hence:
The programme is a key success of WWF's work in CAR, learning a wealth of lessons along the way in terms of habituation and research. It provides visitors with the unique opportunity to see wild western lowland gorillas in their natural forest habitat, and has raised national and international awareness on the plight of the western lowland gorilla.
The base camp, Bai Hokou, was named after the adjacent forest clearing in which forest elephants have dug a large hole to exploit its mineral-rich soil ( “bai” means clearing and “hokou”, hole, in the local BaAka language). Bai Hokou rests at the heart of an extensive system of bais, offering excellent opportunities for research and tourism by attracting high densities of wildlife to the area. Long term ecological monitoring and studies on western lowland gorillas have been conducted at Bai Hokou since 1984 (see History of Western Lowland Gorilla Research), and gorilla habituation was attempted as early as 1992 (Remis), but at that time with limited success.
By 1998, the PHP team, under the direction of Chloe Cipolletta, had mapped an extensive trail system (mainly based on elephant trails), and located the main gorilla group in the area. The first habituated gorilla group, the Munye, was followed from 1998-2004. In 2000 the habituation of a second group began. It is this latter group, Makumba, that is currently enjoyed by a wealth of visitors: tourists, researchers, reporters, and film crews alike (e.g. National Geographic, Discovery, BBC, Canal Plus). In 2004, the PHP diversified its programme and began habituating a large group of agile mangabeys (Cercocebus agilis). The mangabeys, as well as a bai tour (with the chance to see the local forest buffalos and a variety of other wildlife), have been open to tourists since 2005. As of 2006, the PHP starting the habituation of another gorilla group at Bai Hokou, and expanded its activities through the establishment of a second camp, Mongambe, which provides the base for following a further two gorilla groups. Today the PHP employs over 50 staff and raises over 50% of the Reserve’s tourism revenue (through tourism, film, and research fees), which is fed back into conservation and community initiatives. This revenue, alongside the staff’s dedication and passion, has served to increase local awareness on the benefits the gorilla conservation.