Uganda Travel News

IT WAS NOT OUR EXPERIENCE that conservation proceeds in a tidy progression from research through analysis to action. From our earliest days in the park we were actively engaged in anti-poaching efforts around Karisoke. WE had little understanding of who the poachers were, what their motivations might be, or why a market existed for their grisly goods. With time we would learn the answers to some of these questions. But first we occupied the front line of defense in a deadly struggle to save the gorillas. So we burned poacher huts, confiscated weapons and cut traps wherever we found them. We chased poachers as far as lungs would last and with little thought to what we would do if we ever caught them. We herded gorillas away from known poacher zones. And we did our futile best with limited means to save those who could not escape the lethal grasp of traps.

On his frequent trips to Kigali, Bill was asked for advice on many issues concerning the park. Drtlef Siebrecht was a German tourism advisor to ORTPN who felt that much more should be done with gorillas. Unfortunately one of his first ideas was to capture a small group of gorillas and keep them in an enclosed area where tourists could see them. Detlef would then quickly add that the enclosure should be within the park boundaries,” of course, mon ami” His smile was engaging and his logic straight forward: we need to make enough money to protect your park and the other gorillas. But his idea was frightening and Bill made it a priority to quash any such thinking in discussions with Detlef and other ORTPN personnel.

On one trip to Kigali, Bill learned that the secretary general of education wished to see him. This followed soon after Bill had proposed a speaking tour of Rwandan secondary schools and he hoped that this meeting would result in a letter of authorization. He was asked instead if he would help to design an environmental studies program for grades one through twelve as part of national curriculum revision. It was difficult to say no to the second most powerful man in the ministry, but Bill begged off claiming correctly that he didn’t have the necessary training for that kind of work. Two months later the secretary general caught him in a more optimistic moment though and Bill agreed to consult with Gilles Toussaint and Francois Minani, a team of professional educators within the ministry already assigned to work on the revised environmental curriculum.

Our early involvement with anti-poaching, tourism and education was based more on inspiration and effort than on knowledge and training. Our understanding of these issues and their interrelationship grew steadily however until a meeting with Jean Paul Sorg put everything into focus. Sorg was a forester assigned to the ministry of Agriculture or MINAGRI, as it was known. Like most of his Swiss colleagues and compatriots in the direction des Eaux ET forests, he took a very practical view of his work. Growing and cutting wood was his business. But Sorg also saw forestry as a way to save Rwanda’s last natural forests, about which he cared deeply. When Bill learned of his interest, he scheduled a meeting at an old colonial research station outside of Butare to discuss ideas for protecting the parc des Volcans. Bill was just a red blankly at a question about the park. Alors, vous ne savez pas? No, Bill certainly didn’t know. Sorg dropped the bombshell news that the government had agreed to clear another 12,500 acres from the park for a cattle –raising project. There had been many rumors but nothing definite until Sorg pulled out a recent government publication outlining the proposed scheme in considerable detail .Five thousand cattle on five thousand hectares. One third of the park, European funding, Sorg apologized for bearing such bad news, but Bill thanked him for warning and hurried North to Kigali.

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