Partnering with Local Communities to Protect Endangered Mountain Gorilla Habitat in Uganda
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park like many other protected areas in Uganda is faced with poaching, illegal logging and encroachment. “Each week, my group, would successfully hunt not less than 50 animals from the park” Damaino Rwarinda a member of the Nteko Reformed Poachers Association narrates how he was involved in poaching before he was reformed. Besides poaching, the indigenous private forest owners were cutting down forests at a high rate, converting their land to farming especially tea growing. The challenge with this is twofold; escalating loss of natural forest cover and reducing habitats for the gorillas.
In 2014, WWF working with Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) and Nkuringo Community Conservation and Development Foundation (NCCDF), an umbrella community based organization, mobilised groups of poachers and indigenous private forest owners to engage in community conservation and development activities. These efforts included strengthening the institutions’ organization capacity as well as technical capacities to develop fundable proposals that would address effective natural resource management and providing sustainable alternative livelihood options.
Awareness creation and sensitization
To influence attitude change on conservation, poachers, illegal loggers and private forest owners were sensitised and trained on how to sustainably manage the forest resources. “I was planning to cut down my forest and plant millet but after the training, I learnt that if I enrich my forest, I will get even more benefits in future ” said Aurelia Mihanda, the chairperson of the Nkuringo Indigenous Private Forest Owners Association. The Association comprises of 122 households, 13 of which are female headed.
“In these communities, awareness of the value of conservation is important, but it’s not enough to ensure protection of forest habitats because they still have needs to cater for” said George Kaija, WWF Forest Governance Officer. ‘‘There are many competing land use options and talking about conservation without providing alternative income sources cannot maintain the forest especially for a community that has for generations looked at the forest as their main source of livelihood’’. WWF in consultation with the beneficiaries and other stakeholders has worked to enhance capacity in management of sustainable alternative forest based enterprises.
Alternative options introduced for income generation.
Apiculture training and 300 beehives have been provided to the two community groups and they have already started harvesting honey for sale. Bee keeping is a viable forest based enterprise because it addresses livelihood and environmental issues. It also reduces human wildlife conflicts by strategically placing the hives in locations that would otherwise be paths for animals such as elephants and gorillas to access community land.
Through cost sharing with the beneficiary communities, WWF has provided 58 rain water harvesting tanks with a 10,000 litre capacity each in Rubuguri and Nteko parishes. “Water has been a big challenge. Women and children could spend up to 6 hours collecting water from far off sources in a difficult terrain but now we have more free time to get involved in other economic activities.” said Aurelia. For those homesteads with water harvesting tanks, women and children are no longer at risk of meeting wild animals at water points that are shared by both humans and animals. This will also reduce incidences of disease transmission.
Nteko Reformed Poachers Association which is composed of 55 men and 10 women has so far received 100 goats. These were proportionately distributed among the members and have since multiplied to over 280. Goat manure is also being utilized to nourish their kitchen vegetable gardens that have boosted their nutrition and especially that of their children. They have also been trained on Sustainable Land Management which will increase their yield and consequently their incomes.
Due to the cold weather, bees cannot colonise modern beehives such as Kenya Top Bar so the beekeepers are forced to stick with traditional hives which are not as efficient.
The indigenous private forest owners get pressure from other communities members to cut their forests citing that they attract problem animals which destroy their crops. They also hope that they can directly benefit from tourism especially since tourists often times view the gorillas from their private forests.
Tea growing and other forms of farming are still attractive economic ventures to forest owners so the threat to lose more forests still lingers.
The need for safe water is still great as most of the families are still faced with this challenge which is being worsened by the change in climatic conditions.
There is need to adopt sustainable tea practices and engage duty bearers on finding lasting solutions to water shortage and high levels of poverty in the area. Although many indigenous private forest owners are still committed to maintaining them, enriching the degraded ones and expanding enterprises that they can gain from the forests is vital. UWA should also begin thinking of ideas on how forest owners whose forests are visited by gorillas can be rewarded especially when tracking is done on such lands.
This work has been made possible with support from WWF Australia and WWF Denmark.