Biodiversity, Education and Conservation: IGCP as case study

The following is a speech given by IGCP’s Director, Eugène Rutagarama, on December 16, 2010 by invitation from the Rwandan Ministry of Education and the Rwanda National Commission for UNESCO for World Science Day.

Biodiversity – education – conservation – sustainable development. Even if we take each of these terms separately, they are broad in scope and complex in and of themselves. However, put them together in combination and now we have something even more complex to conceptualize. I am not an academic and will not dwell on the subtleties and distinctions. Allow me, therefore, to explain this integrated theme through concrete examples of what the International Gorilla Conservation Programme, or IGCP, and partners have been doing and what we have learned from working in the Greater Virunga landscape.

The human context of this region can be summarized in few words-

  • recurrent conflicts, very high population density,
  • poor and insufficient education,
  • over 90 % barely surviving on subsistence agriculture,
  • with 60% of the population living below the poverty line,
  • in heavily indebted poor countries (WB-IMF reports).

But we are also talking about

  • a work force,
  • a population with a secular culture,
  • a population that is still living nearby a rich, though fragile, concentration of biodiversity where elsewhere it has been decimated.

IGCP’s unique partnership operates amidst these challenges and opportunities. IGCP believes that sustainable development through the enhancement of community livelihood is vital to biodiversity conservation. And education is part of this peoples’ empowerment.

Since 1991, the International Gorilla Conservation Program has brought together three protected area authorities, the Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature or ICCN, the Office Rwandais du Tourisme et des Parcs Nationaux, formerly ORTPN, now RDB, and the Uganda Wildlife Authority or UWA, and three leading international conservation organizations, African Wildlife Foundation , Fauna & Flora International, and the World Wide Fund for Nature, to support the long term conservation of mountain gorillas and their forest habitat of the Virunga-Bwindi region in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Uganda.

IGCP’s mission is “To conserve gorillas and their habitat through partnering with key stakeholders while significantly contributing to sustainable livelihood development.”

The premise of IGCP’s conservation strategy is simple-

  • Mountain Gorilla are classified critically endangered and at risk of extinction by IUCN. Mountain gorilla populations declined significantly during the 1970s and 80s- from 425 to less than 275 individuals in the Virunga transboundary parks.
  • Secondly, we consider that the two forest blocks- Virunga Massif and Bwindi-Sarambwe- are ecologically important and serve as a  refuge for  high levels of biodiversity.
  • Thirdly, there is a logical and direct link between biodiversity and sustainable livelihoods as most people living in these areas rely on natural resource for their daily life.
  • And finally, working on conservation focused on regional collaboration can aid in peace-building in the region.

From the entry point of mountain gorilla conservation, IGCP operates in a regional, landscape-level approach, promoting integrated collaboration and capacity building, and through a program strategy centered on four core approaches:

  • Strengthening the protection of mountain gorillas and their habitat through transboundary collaboration.
  • Establishing a strong information base to understand the dynamics between human populations and wildlife.
  • Working with local communities to create livelihood opportunities that are complementary and contribute to conservation.
  • Advocating and strengthening supportive policy and legislation for conservation.

Key result areas of IGCP include

  • 1-capacity building for inspiring conservation leaders and empowerment of environmental stewards;
  • 2- community initiatives for mitigating human wildlife conflicts and for improving livelihoods;
  • 3-eco-tourism for a responsible tourism, benefit sharing and promoting local enterprises;
  • 4-Ranger-based monitoring for informed management and increased protection; and
  • 5-transboundary collaboration for expanded partnerships and for integrated conservation and trust building.

In each of these areas, IGCP working with its key partners have made sound accomplishments.

These include:

In the area of capacity building and inspiring conservation leaders:

  • Since 2000 we have jointly awarded fellowships to over 10 Central African conservationists for pursuit of higher academic degrees.

  • Greater than 300 park rangers and 100 park managers have been trained through the IGCP facilitated and sponsored workshops and meetings for improved monitoring and management.
  • A total of 12 community-based organizations now trained for strengthened governance and conservation enterprise development.
  • Three general management plans have been completed and implemented in the Bwindi Mgahinga Conservation Area in Uganda, Virunga National Park in DRC and Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda through IGCP facilitated processes and support.
  • IGCP supported the National University of Rwanda to secure seeding funs for a Biology Conservation Programme and the Kitabi College for Conservation and Environment Management to settle as an education centre targeting mid-career trainees. IGCP has also signed an agreement with the NUR for further collaboration in educating conservation leaders in this region.
  • From 2002 to 2010, over 20 regional planning meetings were held to address priority topics promoting joint communication and coordination of cross-border activities.

In the area of community initiatives for mitigating human wildlife conflicts and for improving livelihoods;

  • Along with other partners on the ground, IGCP has supported the construction of a conflict preventing stone buffalo wall from 1993. To date, 76 km has been built around PNV in Rwanda, 15km in MGNP in Uganda, 52 km around the Mikeno sector of PNVi, and 2.5km along the Uganda DRC border.
  • The purchase of the Nkuringo land parcel (4.2 km2) near Bwindi in Uganda for establishment of pilot projects promoting joint park-community buffer zone management, while providing livelihood benefits to 13 communities and protecting wildlife from disease.
  • An unprecedented Peace and Conflict Impact Assessment from 2004-2007 to understand how IGCP conservation activities impact peace and conflict in the region and ensure activities contribute to peace building.
  • Approximately 5,000 people are now receiving water in communities surrounding Bwindi Impenetrable and Volcanoes National Parks.

In the area of -eco-tourism for a responsible tourism, benefit sharing and promoting local enterprises:

  • In 2005, we launched “The Virunga Massif Sustainable Tourism Development Plan” to promote and guide transboundary eco-tourism in a sustainable manner.
  • Over 39,000 people within the Virunga-Bwindi region continue to benefit from 39 IGCP sponsored eco-tourism enterprises.
  • Designed and constructed Mgahinga Visitors’ Center in 2006 providing conservation awareness and education to visitors, as well as a training facility for park staff and local communities.
  • Supported unprecedented studies evaluating the economic significance of mountain gorilla tourism and protected forests in 2000 and 2003, providing scientifically sound direction for sustainable tourism development.
  • Promoted institution of two community tourism associations, Nkuringo Conservation Development Foundation (NCDF) and Sabyinyo Community Livelihood Association (SACOLA), to construct and manage two world class eco-tourism lodges in Uganda and Rwanda, attracting visitors from around the globe. To date, the lodges have generated over $500,000 and $300,000 respectively, transferred directly to community’s bank accounts.

In the area of ranger-based monitoring for informed management and increased protection;

  • Over 500 gorillas have been identified by noseprint and photo, referenced and included in the RBM gorilla database, along with over 1,600 geo-referenced local place names have been incorporated into maps and made available for park management.
  • In 2003, 2006 and 2010, IGCP conducted in collaboration with PAAs and partners mountain gorilla census in the Virunga Volcanoes and Bwindi. This year revealing a significant increase in the Virunga mountain gorilla population, and resulting in a total of approximately 782 individuals living within the two forest blocks.
  • Established and provided equipment to one monitoring unit in each of the four mountain gorilla parks with over 200 patrol rangers trained on monitoring techniques.
  • A total of over 16 regional training sessions held with monitoring supervisors from the mountain gorilla parks and Kahuzi Biega National Park.  Topics covered include applied geographic information systems (GIS), database management, gorilla demography, gorilla behavior, census methodologies, photography, and RBM data analysis and interpretation for park management
  • Since 1997, more than 80 ranger-based monitoring joint patrols were conducted across the transboundary landscape protecting one of the world’s second rarest great ape species. By 2006, joint patrols covered over 75% of the Virunga Massif and over 55% of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, approximately 80,000 hectares.
  • Developed research and monitoring plans for each of the mountain gorilla parks together with ICCN, ORTPN and UWA which integrate ongoing RBM data collection efforts to address priority management needs.
  • The 2004, Tripartite MOU and subsequent 2006 Transboundary Strategic Plan established protocols for an integrated monitoring system throughout the Central Albertine Rift, allowing for shared ownership and responsibility for regional data sharing.

In the area of transboundary collaboration for expanded partnerships and for integrated conservation and trust building.

  • Initiated the Protected Area Transfrontier collaboration process from 1996 together with the three PAAs, which led to the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding in 2004 “On the Collaborative Conservation of the Central Albertine Rift Transfrontier Protected Area Network”, officially establishing joint management of the Virunga-Bwindi ecosystem.
  • Established the landmark Ranger-based Monitoring program in 1997 to harmonize information collection and sharing with the PAAs, and ensure effective management of the transboundary region, including organizing monitoring and surveillance patrols and training programs to enhance mountain gorilla protection.
  • Ministerial Declaration signed in October 2005 on the “Transboundary Natural Resource Management of the Transfrontier Protected Area Network of the Central Albertine Rift”, acknowledging eight National Parks in the Central Albertine Rift as a single transboundary ecosystem shared between Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and pledging support for its effective collaborative management.

  • Facilitated 2006 MOU on “Collaborative Monitoring of and Sharing Revenues from Transfrontier Tourism Gorilla Groups” promoting regional tourism and peace. As a result, the three PAAs agreed to monitor all gorillas in their respective parks, organize visits to gorillas, and share income from visits on a 50% basis for both the institution of origin and the host institution.
  • Development of a historic ten year Transboundary Strategic Plan signed into effect by the PAAs in May 2006 creating a protocol, network and Transboundary Core Secretariat for coordinated biodiversity conservation and poverty reduction in the Central Albertine Rift.

Successful accomplishments in these components have led to IGCP’s recognition as one of the most respected and showcased conservation programs in the world, and globally acknowledged for having a lasting conservation impact.

Why does IGCP fight at all these fronts?

The loss of biodiversity is not a myth, it is happening every day. According to a United Nations report, “we lose three species an hour to urbanization, deforestation, overfishing, climate change, and invasive species. And it’s not just about the ‘wild’. Human habitats like farms are equally threatened”.

We all need to pull up our sleeves, avail our weapons and fight back!

IGCP has chosen to face the urgent need of conserving our biodiversity in a context where the human population is also struggling for its own survival.  We are doing so through a species which was at its last stop before extinction just a few decades ago- the mountain gorilla. Together with our partners, we have accomplished sound progress including the reverse of the decline of mountain gorilla population; together with all of us here in the room, we will achieve much more!

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  • Byamukama James said

    Reply?

    Dear Eugene,
    I have never had IGCP in my palms nor understood it any better way, despite my 6 year stay, than when I read this article. Thank you

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