BRINGING RELIGIOUS LEADERS AT THE CENTRE OF WILDLIFE CONSERVATION

Various interventions have been undertaken including supporting park adjacent communities with projects for alternative sources of income, policies and laws have been passed and enforced unfortunately conservation of the habitat and its wildlife still remains a challenge. Poaching, wildlife trafficking and other wildlife crimes continue to rise, the big question remains – WHY?

Maybe it’s time we started to look at things from a different perspective too. According to Susan Natukunda an Environment and Christian Ethics lecturer at Bishop Balaam University in Kabale,Uganda people’s morals/behavior have not been adequately targeted to positively support wildlife conservation. And this Susan believes can successfully be achieved by bringing religious leaders on board or working closely with them especially at the grassroots level.

 “All over the world religious leaders command respect and their messages are taken as gospel truth. Most of their teachings aim at behavioral change, good deeds and being good stewards of God’s creation. What better approach than this, Susan exclaims!” Susan argues that the involvement of religious leaders is one neglected entity in environmental conservation and yet if given attention it can positively contribute to wildlife conservation.

Religious leaders in park adjacent communities should be encouraged to teach and also remind people about Genesis 1:28 – it challenges man to have dominion and be a good steward of God’s creation both fauna and flora.  Susan believes that if this message of stewardship is passed on to communities in their different worship centers it can create great impact in wildlife conservation in the greater Virunga – Bwindi landscape. “I have seen it work. I have seen it bring a renown poacher to confession and surrender during one of my field work sessions in the park adjacent communities around Bwindi” Susan reveals. The department of environment and disaster management at Bishop Balaam University conducts ‘environment Sunday’ outreaches to churches in park adjacent communities with the aim of educating the community about conservation and environmental protection. They also give out tree seedlings and plant trees in these communities.

Susan shares that during one of the field visits to Ruhija church of Uganda her students presented a skit about St. Francis of Assis –  as a patron of conservation, his love for wildlife and his ability to tame a wolf that was threatening a village in Gubio, Italy. This was followed with a call to change individual behavior, attitudes and actions towards wildlife – emphasizing the need for wildlife conservation and the consequences of doing otherwise.

A one Biryomunsi was touched and moved to confess that he had a group of five youthful boys whom he poaches with in Bwindi national park. He repented before the congregation and promised never to abuse wildlife again. He also pledged to talk to his fellow poachers to lay down their tools and join in the cause of wildlife conservation instead. Today Biryomunsi is a crusader for wildlife conservation in Ruhija.

Talking to Rogers Gumusiriza, a finalist student of Environment and Disaster Management at Bishop Balaam University about involving religious leaders in conservation work, Rogers agrees that this approach can gradually cause positive change. “whereas it is easy for one to underscore the role of such an approach I am confident that with dedication and patience good results can be realized including creating awareness about wildlife conservation and securing support for the same” Rogers remarks.

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