International Gorilla Conservation Programme (IGCP)

Geographical location:

Africa/Madagascar > Central Africa > Democratic Republic of Congo (Zaïre)

Africa/Madagascar > East Africa > Rwanda
Africa/Madagascar > East Africa > Uganda

An adult male mountain gorilla in the Virunga Mountains.
© WWF EARPO

Summary

The mountain gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei) is threatened by human activities such as poaching, civil war and habitat destruction.

The project aims to ensure the survival and long-term conservation of the mountain gorilla and its regional afro-montane habitat in Northwestern Rwanda, Southwestern Uganda and Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Background

Only approximately 680 mountain gorillas survive in the wild. Over the years the gorilla population has been monitored, different periods have seen a dramatic decline in the population, due to hunting, war, disease, destruction of forest habitat and capture for the illegal pet trade, which has led to fears that the species could become extinct.

The experience of IGCP over the past 18 years of conflict and humanitarian crisis in the region has led it to the development of an integrated approach towards conservation, focusing on regional collaboration in natural resource management. The strategy of IGCP is based on 3 principles:

- strengthening the protection of mountain gorillas and their habitat through regional collaboration by the 3 countries and structured mechanisms for transboundary conservation;
- establishing a strong information base to allow decision makers to understand the dynamic between the human population and the natural habitat/wildlife;
- working with local communities to develop livelihood strategies that are complementary to, and even contribute to conservation objectives.

Emphasis is given at all levels on regional collaboration to ensure that the 3 countries work together to protect and conserve this area.

Regional activities include: ecological monitoring and surveillance (the ranger based monitoring programme); ecotourism and nature based tourism development; joint training, communication and sharing experiences; planning; community participation and conservation enterprise development, as well as park management planning.

Objectives

Ensure the survival and long-term conservation of the mountain gorilla and its regional afro-montane habitat in Northwestern Rwanda, Southwestern Uganda and in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Specific Objectives:
1. Identify, develop and promote conservation incentives that contribute to the conservation of mountain gorillas and their habitats.
2. Undertake comprehensive monitoring and management oriented research.
3. Increase support for the conservation of mountain gorillas and their habitat among interest groups.
4. Strengthen and promote Transboundary Natural Resource Management processes and mechanisms.

Solution

IGCP has 4 strategic objectives:
1. By 2015 relevant conservation incentives that contribute to the conservation of mountain gorillas and their habitats are identified, developed and promoted.

1.1. By 2015 conservation incentives that enhance livelihoods and contribute to the conservation of mountain gorillas and their habitats developed.
- Identification and development of conservation enterprises (business enterprises compatible with conservation objectives) based on critical natural resources for mountain gorilla conservation.
- Continued capacity building and support to selected CBOs and CSOs
- Support development and implementation of community livelihood initiatives, e.g. human wildlife conflict (HWC) mitigation initiatives.

2. By 2015 comprehensive monitoring and management oriented research undertaken
- Undertake an assessment of the impacts of the habituation process on gorillas.
- Document the status and trends of threats to the mountain gorilla population based on ranger based monitoring data (data collected by park rangers on patrol).
- Develop strategies to address any new threats that have been identified.
- Vulnerability of mountain gorillas to climate change assessed:
- Facilitate stakeholder workshops on the "Impacts of climate change for mountain gorilla conservation".
- Develop a vulnerability and adaptability action plan for the mountain gorilla in response to climate change.

3. By 2015 support for the conservation of mountain gorillas and their habitat increased
- Physical plans developed and implemented in tourism sites in the Virunga Massif and BINP.
- A watershed management plan around Virunga Massif and BINP developed.
- Advocacy strategy to mitigate threats developed and implemented.
- Produce information package/materials e.g. brochures, posters, newsletters, documentaries (film and video) for distribution to strategic consumers.

4. By 2015 Transboundary Natural Resource Management processes and mechanisms strengthened and promoted
- IGCP ecosystem achievements documented and disseminated at regional and global levels.
- A regional user-friendly database (Regional Information System) compatible with existing PA data collection software established.
- Developing capacity to manage protected areas:
- Construction of Nkuringo sub-station completed.
- Training plan developed and implemented for PAA staff (following from the training needs assessments already undertaken).
- Equipment provided for effective PA management (following the equipment needs assessment already been undertaken).

Achievement

- Gorilla population: Currently gorilla population is estimated at around 680 individuals (results from the 2003 Virunga census and 2006 Bwindi census). Although no formal gorilla census has been recently carried out in the Virunga Massif, there is no evidence to indicate that the population growth is reducing.

Genetic results from the 2006 Bwindi gorilla census estimate the population to be approximately 300 individuals, a reduction from the sweep census population estimate of 340 individuals. As these two results are not directly comparable due to the different methods used, there is no reason to believe that the population in Bwindi is declining only that the estimate is now more accurate.

- Gorilla habitat: The overall status of the mountain gorilla habitat in the Virunga Bwindi region continues to be intact, with no major, landscape level changes. However, there are underlying threats that need urgent and concerted efforts to address. Especially in DRC, there is a high demand for charcoal to meet the energy needs in the surrounding communities and commercial centres. This demand is stripping the surrounding areas of their vegetation cover, increasing soil erosion that is a threat due to silting of the water systems, and even further threatens the protected gorillas’ habitat.

- Regional collaboration: This continues to strengthen with the institutionalization of the Greater Virunga Trans-boundary Secretariat making a significant step forward with the three ministers from the respective countries signing a MINUTE requesting the Government of Rwanda to register the Secretariat as an Inter-state AGENCY in the short term and pledging to finalize a conclusive TREATY institutionalizing the secretariat within 2 years from the date of signing.

- Protected area management: The protected areas that are the core habitats of the mountain gorillas continue to be legally and administratively protected in all the three countries. In Bwindi, the 4.2 km2 of farmland in Nkuringo that had been purchased for the sake of the Nkuringo gorilla group has regenerated thereby increasing the conservation area near Bwindi forest. IGCP has continued to support protected area authorities in terms of important technical support, and material and equipments such as computers, Global Positioning Systems, field gear for the rangers and training on computer-based software, such as training in data analysis tools like SPSS and Ms Access among others. This has improved their effectiveness in managing the protected areas to ensure the illegal activities and other threats are minimized. Community-based institutions in particular human gorilla conflict resolution (HUGO) teams has been supported to improve on their capacity to manage not only gorilla related conflicts but wildlife conflicts in general.
- Production of guidelines handbook: Another associated success is the production of a guidelines handbook to provide guidance on how to handle gorilla when they leave the forest to raid crops in surrounding farmland. Working with the United Organization for Batwa Development in Uganda (UOBDU a group of marginalised Batwa neighbouring Mgahinga in Uganda was identified and trained in functional adult literacy program to learn how to read and write. As a way of including their former lifestyle while residing in the park, a cave in which they used to live within the Mgahinga Gorilla National Park – the Garama cave was identified and rehabilitated as a tourism attraction. Batwa guides have been identified and trained to conduct visitors into this cave.

- Trans-boundary natural resources management (TBNRM and establishment of Secretariat): An important key success has been in the area of trans-boundary natural resources management (TBNRM) through launching of the trans-boundary strategic plan. As a management concept, TBNRM has been accepted at all levels, but most importantly, it has been accepted at the national policy / political level. There is political support at national level upon which other interventions can be built upon and even peace initiatives organised. The three governments of Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Rwanda and Uganda have officially accepted the approach as the best policy and practice to manage the trans-boundary natural resources of the Virunga-Bwindi landscape. As a result, a core secretariat comprising of the three PAAs Executive Directors is now functional and offices of the executive secretariat have been established in Kigali. Coupled with this success, is the breakthrough in accepting by the three countries to work together to develop trans-boundary policies. Examples of such policies being discussed include the revenue sharing policies, gorilla habituation protocols and the need to involve local communities in the management of protected areas.

- Community-based enterprise development and interventions: A long-standing plan to develop community-based enterprises to benefit the marginalized and poor communities but who bear the highest costs of managing wildlife was developed. In Rwanda, the Sabyinyo Community Lodge (SACOLA) has been commissioned and it represents a success story of how communities can be empowered to benefit from the management of the protected areas. In Nkuringo (Uganda), the local communities have been organised and supported to ‘stand up’ against the political and business pressures of the elite group to defend their negotiated arrangement to have gorilla permits for their community-owned eco-lodge that opened in August 2008. So far an investment of more than 1.2 million dollars has been recorded and community members are excited about such an investment venture that truly empowers and benefits them. This is against the backdrop of an ever increasing tourism in the region. For example in Bwindi alone, the total number of tour operators grew from 33 groups in the month of January to 56 by June 2009.

- Agreement: The transboundary initiative in the Greater Virunga Landscape has yielded an agreement whereby the three countries sharing populations of Mountain Gorillas signed a formal agreement at the ministerial level. While regional collaboration at the field level and at the level of National Park Authorities (UWA, ORTPN and ICCN) has always continued to progress, it is the first time that such a commitment is formalised at the Ministerial level. The signing of the "Declaration of Goma" was a good step in this process of bringing together officials from the three governments to work together and a first time to have ministers on board.

- Buffalo wall: The building of the buffalo wall around the Virunga Massif is largely completed. Currently work being undertaken is to add to the height and width of the wall so that it is 1.5m high and 1m wide. Additionally work is ongoing in PNV to find a strategy for continuing the buffalo wall through areas with gullies and rivers. In these areas the wall will be swept away during the rainy season which necessitates a different solution in order to keep the buffalo inside the park. Around the Virunga Massif, community members around the park are planting trees along the buffalo wall to strengthen the barrier and volunteers are maintaining the structure.

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