Monitoring provides IGCP and its partners with the answers to two fundamental questions: firstly, what are the threats to the parks and its wildlife, and secondly, how effective are current management, protection and conservation activities?
Current threats are determined by means of ranger-based monitoring, which provides data on illegal human activities inside the park, and socio-economic monitoring, which sheds light on the changing human context, the demand for natural resources and the latest pressures on the park. With regard to operational effectiveness, ranger-based monitoring helps to determine the status of gorillas, other wildlife and the forest itself, while law-enforcement monitoring with the park staff reveals the effectiveness of anti-poaching activities.
In addition, IGCP is helping park staff to monitor the effectiveness of their own performance across a broad spectrum of activities. Remote sensing work in collaboration with the European Space Agency, UNESCO, WWF and WCS is revealing longer-term changes in habitat structure and human landscape within which the gorillas and the forest exist. This allows IGCP to evaluate the long-term effectiveness of conservation work.
Information gathered by the protected area authorities in the respective countries is analyzed regionally. Tools such as a shared database and a harmonized protocol for data collection encourage transboundary collaboration, resulting in a unified regional approach to conservation and efficient use of resources.
Ranger-based monitoring (RBM) is a cornerstone of IGCP’s regional programme. Historically, limited resources and a lack of data had undermined the effectiveness of park controls. Designed and started by IGCP and the park authorities in the Democratic Republic of Congo, RBM is a simple but effective conservation tool for field staff, allowing rangers on patrol to collect basic information, which in turn helps to inform further activities and management decisions in all four parks. The three protected area authorities have been key players in developing the RBM programme, which has now been implemented in all three countries and provides the basis for managing the shared habitat in a collaborative manner.
RBM is an indispensable regional data collection tool, used by all park managers. Though not high-tech, when combined with Global Positioning Systems it allows park staff to overlay human use of the forest with gorilla movements, the presence of food plants, movements of elephants and areas being utilized by militia groups, poachers and those engaged in other illegal activities. RBM illustrates the enormous value of daily patrols, not only for anti-poaching and law enforcement purposes, but also to increase understanding of what is happening in the forest.
The availability of key information – gorilla health, where to send anti-poaching patrols, where the most vulnerable wildlife is feeding, what park resources people are illegally extracting etc. – ensures that park staff are responding to the real conservation priorities. IGCP is developing increasingly detailed reference materials for the four parks, including identification cards, photographs and noseprints for every individual gorilla (see Mountain gorillas).
RBM has continued uninterrupted throughout the recent conflict and is one of the main reasons why gorillas have enjoyed such effective protection. Its success has led other parks and conservation agencies to ask IGCP for help in setting up ranger-based monitoring at new sites elsewhere in Africa.
Data gathering outside park boundaries includes socio-economic studies that enable IGCP to form a picture of the human situation around the protected areas. Information gleaned provides the basis for developing activities that address the needs of the population as well as specific threats to the forest and its wildlife. For example, a recent socio-economic study of the Virunga-Bwindi region, designed and implemented by IGCP and the Wildlife Conservation Society and supported by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, revealed differences in the communities surrounding the forest blocks (report PDF available for download). In response, IGCP will refine its enterprise programme and protection activities to ensure that the most pressing issues are tackled first.
An economic valuation and opportunity-cost analysis of the Central Albertine Rift was conducted in 2002, with support from The Howard G. Buffett Foundation, in order to determine the current and potential value of the forests and existing/potential land uses.
The report ‘Economic Valuation of the Central Albertine Rift’ is available to download on this page.
The programme also uses satellite technology to monitor broader landscape changes over time and illustrate the impact of human activities, including agriculture or the influx of refugees, or events such as the volcanic eruption near Goma.
For example, the European Space Agency is working with IGCP to survey the vegetation cover of gorilla habitat in the Great Lakes region using remote sensing technology. The Survey of Gorilla Habitats (SOGHA) project and the subsequent BEGo (Build Environment for Gorillas) project are providing IGCP with refined data for field, topographic and vegetation maps of the Virungas and Bwindi and a land use map that reveals changes in vegetation over a ten-year period.
The growing portfolio of field, topographic and vegetation maps at the disposal of the programme is a vital conservation resource.