These questions were responded to by Anna Behm Masozera, Communications Officer for the International Gorilla Conservation Programme (IGCP) on June 25, 2012. IGCP is a regional organization focused on the conservation of the critically endangered mountain gorilla. More information about IGCP can be found at www.igcp.org.
The following is not an endorsement of Destination Jungle Safaris by the International Gorilla Conservation Programme (IGCP) or any of its coalition members. We thank Anna for the time she dedicated to The Gorilla Talks!
-How do you think the IGCP has contributed to the conservation of the gorillas in Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo?
The International Gorilla Conservation Programme, founded in 1991, has focused on the conservation of mountain gorillas in the three countries where the world’s remaining mountain gorillas live - Uganda, Rwanda and the DRC. IGCP’s work has centered on encouraging and facilitating the three countries to work together toward species conservation, even during periods of conflict and insecurity. That working together across borders involves sharing information and participating in joint patrols, regulation of mountain gorilla tourism (like the 7 meter rule, 1 hour duration limit, and restricted number of visitors per gorilla group per day). If anyone would like more information on the contribution of IGCP since its foundation, our lessons learned document is available on our website (link to http://www.igcp.org/wp-content/themes/igcp/docs/pdf/IGCPLessonsLearned_English_web.pdf)
-What are the projects or areas of concerns in which you are currently working on?
We are currently working on analyzing data from two important sources – both the complete census of the mountain gorilla population in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and the analysis of ranger-based monitoring data collected in both the Virunga Massif (collectively Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda, Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, and the Mikeno Sector of Virunga National Park in DRC) and Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Ranger-based monitoring is data collected by park rangers when they do their duties of patrolling the park and monitoring the mountain gorillas. Both the census and the ranger-based monitoring data will give us insight into the status of both the species and the potential threats to the species- such as the setting of snares or tree cutting happening in their habitat. This will help us target specific interventions to reduce the threats and help the mountain gorillas in both populations thrive. You can keep an eye on the IGCP blog for more about what is currently happening in the world of mountain gorilla conservation (see link from Useful Links)
-How is the structure of your organization and how you receive support and funds?
IGCP is unique as it a coalition of the African Wildlife Foundation, Fauna & Flora International, and the World Wide Fund for Nature. Our board of directors includes a representative from these three organizations and we are deeply integrated into each organization. We receive both restricted (grants from institutions, foundations, or individual donors for a specific project) and unrestricted funds (funds raised from memberships or general donations) from our three coalition members, which enable us to implement our strategy and achieve our ultimate mission. Our headquarters is based in Kigali, Rwanda, but we have field offices in Kabale, Uganda; Musanze, Rwanda; and Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo.
-What are the main challenges you faced / face in your work?
The biggest challenge we face is that the remaining habitat for mountain gorillas is quite restricted, just 450 km2 in the Virunga Massif and 331 km2 in Bwindi). Beyond these protected areas (or designated parks) is some of, if not the, most densely populated rural areas in Africa, with upwards of 1,000 people per km2 in some locations. This is the biggest challenge we face and which is why IGCP also has many focused projects which engage the community in livelihood development and participation in conservation.
-What someone could concretely do to support you and the cause of mountain gorillas?
I really like this list that was compiled by our colleagues at Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project or Gorilla Doctors, and I agree with their 10 recommendations for people who want to do what they can to conserve mountain gorillas (http://www.gorilladoctorsblog.org/field-blog/2012/1/13/top-10-ways-to-protect-mountain-gorillas.html?utm_source=January+2012&utm_campaign=Jan+NL+11&utm_medium=email )
-Why do many people in the communities say that gorilla tourism does not benefit the communities?
I would say that it has a lot to do with distribution of benefits within a community, and how much awareness there is around the distribution of benefits. All mountain gorilla parks have what is called revenue sharing- a percentage of the fees paid to the parks for gorilla trekking and other tourism activities which returns to the local communities around the park. However, we have found that sometimes those resources go into large infrastructure projects like schools or clinics, but the community doesn’t know that those structures were built from tourists coming to visit mountain gorillas. It is one of the reasons that the Gorilla Levy was introduced in Uganda. The Gorilla Levy are funds that can be applied for by individuals or community associations and there is an awareness campaign about their availability and that these funds are possible because of mountain gorilla tourism.
-Does the gorilla tourism benefit the gorillas themselves or your organization?
Tourism does benefit mountain gorillas in many ways. First it allows for the daily monitoring of the mountain gorilla groups that are habituated for tourism. Habituation is a process in which the mountain gorillas are, over a long period of time, made to be comfortable in the presence of people. This daily monitoring allows for veterinary intervention when a life-threatening illness or injury takes place. Tourism also generates revenue for the parks to function, to pay the rangers that patrol the parks. Tourism also demonstrates a value of the park as a park (rather than for potatoes or cattle) at the local and national level. But tourism based on mountain gorillas has to be done with the most caution and respect of the rules of visits (the minimum distance between people and gorillas, the 1 hour maximum stay, and no visits by sick tourists) so that tourism does not negatively affect mountain gorillas.
-Do you have opportunities for volunteering in case there are people who wish to see closely the field work?
At the moment, we do not have a volunteer program within IGCP. We do, on specific occasions based on a specific need, seek interns to both gain experience while helping us out on a project.
Anna Behm Masozera
IGCP Communications Officer