Bwindi Impenetrable National Park

Gorillas are found only in central Africa. The ranges of the two species (Western and Eastern) are separated by about 1000 km. The gorillas inhabit10 central African countries in different habitats ranging from coastal lowland forests to high Afromontane rain forests. Mountain Gorillas are the most heavily studied while The Cross River Gorilla is the least studied and the rarest.

Gorillas are found only in central Africa and Bwindi Impenetrable National Park has about 400 gorillas residing, making it very important for the conservation of them. Bwindi can be found in the Southwestern region of Africa on the edge of the Rift Valley, while the National Park borders the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The National Park that these gorillas occupy is only accessible by foot, is registered as a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation and designated World Heritage Site.

The park is owned by the Uganda Wildlife Authority, a parastatal government body, and is protected by this authority. There are communities bordering the park however who are allowed to access some of the resources. The areas bordering the park have high population densities and some of the poorest people in Uganda. The Bwindi forest is under pressure from subsistence agriculture and threats posed by human activity.

Threats to Mountain Gorillas

  • Habitat loss due to growing population and farming
  • Civil war and conflict in the region
  • Poaching for bush meat
  • Illegal Logging and threats to Gorillas and habitat
  • Attitudes gorillas are vermin

Fortress Conservation

Fortress conservation is a conservation model that believes biodiversity protection is best achieved by creating protected areas isolated from human activity. It assumes that local people are a destructive force who use resources irresponsibly and unsustainably. There are three guiding principles, local people are excluded, enforcement through rangers and issuing fines for compliance, and access is deemed appropriate if of a scientific nature or tourism (to fund the conservation).

Bwindi Impenetrable National Park adopted a Fortress Conservation approach, aiming for the total exclusion of people and their activities from the forest, enforced by armed rangers.

Problems with Fortress Conservation
Fortress conservation is very unpopular with locals as it prevents them from accessing the rich resources of the now protected area they once were entitled too. Originally the communities were allowed to access a number of resources, like firewood, mushrooms, meat and bamboo for handicraft. Fortress conservation angered communities and they grew hostile to the protected area and towards gorillas, namely arson of the forest and fighting with law enforcement. This was an unsustainable idea.

Solution to Fortress Conservation
An Integrated Conservation and Development approach would include the local people in protecting the gorillas. It would work by conserving the gorillas while meeting the needs of the local people, like entitling people to ancestral claims or providing resources. Some of the resources people wanted could be removed without harming the gorilla habitat, like medicinal plants and weaving materials. Locals claim that wild yams help them live longer and remain resistant to diseases.

Improving Life for Locals and Gorillas

  • Some non-government organisations and the government have tried educate people neighbouring the forest as to not abuse the natural resources the Gorillas depend on.
  • Communities were helped to develop new livelihood activities to replace those lost from their restricted access to the Park. These include community projects of beekeeping and mushroom growing and harvesting (which people initially exploited from the forest).
  • Education taught locals the importance of gorilla conservation. Moreover education also taught locals how to manage their businesses, like how to grow and keep mushrooms.
  • Attitudes towards gorillas began to change as a result of education and helping local communities. Local people could now earn from the protected status of the park and gorilla.

Gorilla Tourism
Programmes for tourism were set up based on the principle more money could be made from holiday makers than exploitation of resources, which does greater damage. Timber harvesting from companies was banned from the region, and locals can now earn more from tourism. Tourism would generate an income in protecting the gorilla species while providing wages also for the rangers and locals. There is a scheme that puts a percentage of Park entrance fees directly into the hands of local people. As a result hotels could be built and a businesses made towards tourism. Attitudes further changed as gorillas could be seen as a source of income rather than meat or timber.

Gorilla Trekking and other forms of sustainable Gorilla Tourism are able to bring in an income for locals while also conserving the life of the Gorillas, although the Gorillas are de-sensitised to humans as a result. Tourists are guided through the forests by approved guides and locals, also providing an income.

Success of Conservation
In 2006 a census found a total of 340 gorillas in the Park, a 12% increase in the population over the preceding decade. The habitat remains large enough to accommodate more gorilla families, meaning the populations can increase. The locals have become a bit wealthier due to tourism and income as a result of the exclusive status of the national park.

Problems with Conservation
Can the Integrated and Conservation Approach help the community so much so to make locals affluent? People can still remain poor with the scheme as they don’t exploit resources they can sell, and their previous work and wares have been stopped by the impenetrable nature of the park. People cannot be controlled completely, and as the needs of people change, as does the future of the conservation efforts. Adaptive Management is adapting the management according to the situation.

Conflict Management

Conflict management needed to arise to ensure both the local people and Gorillas benefitted from the fortress conservation methods employed. Local people need access to the resources of the National Park, but they need to be monitored. This is achieved by engaging locals in discussions and decision making. The UWA carried out an assessment of the forest resources in order to determine their sustainability and how much can be harvested.

Negotiations led to the Multiple-use Agreement between UWA and the local communities that facilitates designated users’ access to the forest for certain resources.

The Multiple-Use Agreement has to be reviewed every 5 years to ensure the people’s needs are met, as people’s attitudes, views and expectations change. Similarly, the forest is also changing, not only as a result of the actions of people but also as a result of ecological processes.

Crop Raiding

The HUGO programme was created to employ volunteers in communities regularly raided by gorillas. Members have a duty to scare off gorillas, which can be dangerous. Volunteers may lose out on time working elsewhere, so incentives had to be conceived. Incentives such as benefits like food rations while on patrol and a credit scheme (ASCA) to enable start-up of small businesses has been successful in retaining existing members and recruiting new members.

Development and Inequality

Communities closest to the tourist gorilla groups enjoy better access to schools, health clinics, jobs and transport. However, this led to inequality in communities further from tourist groups. This was addressed by the revenue-sharing programme which has sought to spread the benefits of gorilla tourism to all communities bordering the park. The work of the Bwindi Trust has provided infrastructure and livelihood support to park communities.

Ongoing consultation

By consulting the local people, less resentment has been caused, however discussions are ongoing. There were some things the communities asked for which UWA couldn’t agree to, like bushmeat, but rather suggested goat herding and goat consumption to manage conflict. The approach demonstrates the need for flexibility and adaptability in the management of conservation rather than the rigid adherence to fortress conservation.

Diversity and Inequality

There is a lot of diversity within communities, and people don’t always agree, especially as the needs of the people and gorillas change. There are inequalities within and between groups, and this can cause conflict. One group that is marginalised is the Batwa group, who are a hunter/gatherer sect. They gather forest products such as wild honey, tubers and bush meat to exchange with communities for salt, metal tools and other items. However the Batwa numbers were small, and the forest large, their impact on the forest was minimal. However, their access to the forest was not formally recognised by the government. With the creation of the national park in 1991 they have lost their livelihood and their means to trade with the local communities. The work of the Bwindi Trust aims to provided opportunities for the Batwa to dance for tourists and to sell them handicrafts. Moreover the Trust bought land for the Batwa and taught them how to grow vegetables.

Conflict Management: The future?

Illegal entry to the park continues. Timber products in the form of poles, stakes, and fuel wood, which is the main source of energy for cooking and heating, are some of the most commonly illegally exploited resources from the forest as the poorer population cannot afford the alternatives of kerosene or other fuels. The park itself is not accessible except on foot, and some locals have deprived access to beneficial infrastructure like medical care and education.

Population increases have meant that resources have become scarcer and dependence on the forest is a way of alleviating such pressure. Local land tenure systems exacerbate the pressure on land as inheritance from a head of a household among sons leads to fragmentation of land holdings. As climate change also adds pressure on environmental systems and causes extreme or unpredictable weather, the pressure on the forest is likely to increase.

Research the life and habitat of the Western Gorillas and look into Gorilla Tourism – like Gorilla Trekking. Do you think Gorilla Tourism is sufficient to support both the Gorilla populations and human populations? Research the work of the Bwindi Trust to see how they are helping local communities.

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