In the beginning of 2013 we approached the Chief Park Warden of Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, Mr. Prosper Uwingeli, requesting him to contribute to our informative website with an interview. He accepted to give us his views and opinions about the gorilla conservation in Rwanda, views and opinions who are the expression of the work done by Rwanda Development Board (the government body in charge of the management of the national parks in Rwanda). The interview is published in July 2013 exclusively for The Gorilla Talks! Enjoy the reading.
-How do you think your organization contributed to the conservation of the mountain gorillas in Rwanda? Explain the best practices in gorilla conservation.
These are the best practices in gorilla conservation:
- Combine research, protection, education and local development are key factors in the continued mountain gorilla population increase in the park;
- Gorilla visitation rules and management;
- The Kwita Izina-gorilla naming as tool of conservation-tourism marketing;
- Structuring frameworks for involving local communities such as ex-poachers in gorilla protection;
- Creating incentives for local people to share the park benefits;
- Strategic partnerships with local government and security institutions to play their role in the community development and gorilla protection.
-What are the projects or areas of concerns in which you are currently working on in terms of conservation?
- The gorilla daily health monitoring under the Ranger Based Monitoring and IMPACT programs;
- The tourism diversification to reduce the pressure on gorillas and creating community based tourism activities outside the park (caves, nature walks, cultural tourism…);
- Community-private sector partnerships promotion (the Governor’s Camp-Sabyinyo community Livelihoods Association; the Kinigi Community Commercial Complex, The Musanze Caves…);
- The conservation community partnership with porters, ex-poachers, wildlife conflict management rangers, wildlife clubs.
-How is structured Rwanda Development Board in Volcanoes National Park so that it helps the protection of mountain gorillas? Can you give us a brief history of Volcanoes National Park.
Situated in northern Rwanda on the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda,
the Volcanoes National Park (VNP) is world famous as the home of a globally‐important popula-tion of the endangered Mountain gorilla, as well as numerous other planand animal species that
are endemic to the Albertine Rift region. In recognition of the park’s importance, VNP was added
to the International Network of Biosphere Reserves underthe UNESCO Man and Biosphere
Programme in 1983. Despite its exceptional biodiversityvalues, the park is subject to a variety of
serious and growing anthropogenic pressures, largely related to it being situated in one of the
most densely populated parts of Rwanda.
To address the threats the Park management authority designed a 10 year management plan (2012‐2021), subdivided into four main Management Programmes:
- Ecological Management & Monitoring Programme
- Tourism Management and Development Programme
- Community Partnership Programme
- Park Operations Programme
-What are the main challenges you faced/face in your work?
- Cross border anti poaching
- Our conservation incentives the poorest people in order to have a direct positive impact on the park, by reducing the poaching incidences that target buffalos and antelopes but threatening gorillas.
-How is it planned and done in practice the habituation of mountain gorillas? How many gorillas families are habituated so far in 2013?
In 2013 we have 18 gorilla groups habituated in Rwanda, of which 8 are only for research and 10 are open for tourism purposes.
The habituation is conducted by experienced gorilla trackers, researchers based on a behavior monitoring protocol. It takes 3-5 years for full habituation process.
However, most habituated groups in Rwanda have been formed following a groups’ splitting / disintegration process whereby one or two mature silverbacks leave his (their) natal group with other habituated gorillas, forming a new habituated group.
-How do you judge the current system of protection in Volcanoes National Park? What are the strengths and weaknesses? Do you think can be feasible to have External Protected areas (Buffer zones) in Volcanoes NP so that to involve the communities in conservation as well as reforesting and so that to expand the gorilla habitat?
Yes this is feasible. Actually the government has already expressed support for studying the feasibility and management of the buffer zone / park extension.
-What do you think should be the priority ideas or projects in the perspective to give a future to the mountain gorillas?
- Protecting the integrity of the habitat and investing in measures to manage (or finding sustainable solution) the park-community interface, mitigating the wildlife conflicts.
- Continued careful management of tourism, supporting research and the gorilla health monitoring.
-Do you think the gorilla permits directly benefit the gorilla conservation and the gorillas themselves? How do you explain the increase of gorilla permits to 750 USD and how this benefits the conservation?
The gorilla permit increase - which started in June 2012 - helped to control the high demand of gorilla permits, especially during the high season.
Based on the tourism revenue sharing policy, it is expected that the increase of the total tourism revenue will lead to the increase of the revenue sharing amount.
-What is the current law protecting gorillas against killing and poaching in Rwanda? Is there a favorable and specific law? What happens if someone is accused of killing a gorilla?
Poaching is illegal under the article 417 of the new penal code.
It stipulates that “any person who poaches, sells, injures or kills a gorilla or any other protected endangered animal species shall be liable to a term of imprisonment of more than five to ten years and a fine of Rwf500, 000 to Rwf5 million.”
-What other organizations do you think are doing well in the direction of gorilla conservation and in the direction to attract interest for the protection of the gorillas?
I would like to mention the International organizations like Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International (DFGFI), International Gorilla Conservation Program (IGCP), Mountain Gorillas Veterinary Project (MGVP), Greater Virunga Transboundary Collaboration (GVTC) and the Gorilla Organization (GO).
-What someone could concretely do to support the cause of mountain gorillas? What do you suggest?
For the International organizations, they have specific and complementary missions.
For the local organizations, under the park community partnership to support gorilla conservation through park protection and using incentives to change attitudes (education).
Lastly, how the current unrest in Congo Virunga National Park is affecting the gorilla conservation and what can be done from Rwanda to help the situation?
Under normal circumstances we have across border collaboration in anti-poaching and other gorilla monitoring activities. The possibility of conducting ranger coordinated patrols is difficult under the current security situation in Congo.