Uganda Travel News

The total of nearly $70,000 per year was not insubstantial by Rwandan standards. But the director’s calculations included no costs to set against his suggested benefits. Some of these costs would go toward salaries for the hundreds of herders, milkers, veterinarians and others who would the five thousand cattle are controlled so they didn’t graze in what remained of the park? The herders would control them. Who would control the herders? He laughed.

Alain Monfort added further information over lunch at his house. Helicopters had flown over the park and prime areas for conversion were already mapped. He said he couldn’t get the maps, but that they included the entire bamboo zone and most of the saddle areas. The saddle area around Karisoke was excluded. This meant the loss of the gorillas most important food resources, the fragmentation of the park into an archipelago of natural islands separated by pasture lands in the saddles, and the further isolation and concentration of the remaining gorillas in high elevation enclaves.

The enemy was now clear, poaching was almost a minor threat compared to the devastating cost to the gorillas if we were to lose the fight against the cattle and further forest destruction. It was time to act.

IN ANY CONSERVATION CONFLICT, there are factors that favor conservation and factors that work against it. In 1979, the equation in Rwanda was heavily weighted against the mountain gorillas. At the global scale world opinion was strongly pro-gorilla; thanks to the wide spread publicity surrounding Dian’s work in articles and films produced by her financial backers at the national geographic society. Yet this foreign constituency had no way to exert influences in any tangible manner inside Rwanda. The thousands of protest letters that were sent in the wake of digit’s death included sharp criticisms, but no checks to help the Rwandan perk service. The real benefits of gorilla conservation accrued to organizations like national geographic through the sale of its films and magazines and to the foreign audiences that enjoyed vicarious contact with the gorillas through these outlets. Wester science, too, cared deeply about the fate of the gorillas. Yet, again the rewards of research accumulated in Western academic institutions, publications and career advancement.

Within Rwanda, Western interests were greatly devalued when weighed against Rwandan needs and perceptions. Gorillas and rain forests were simply not important. Land and employment held the highest value for local populations. Politicians are expected to be attuned to the interests of their constituents whom they ignore at their peril. Dissatisfied guerillas might overthrow the government, mountain gorillas would not.

If gorillas were to have any chance, the scales had to be rebalanced through a program of active intervention. Factors favoring the gorillas and their forest habitat needed to be amplified, negative factors reduced. Education could help in the long run to increase Rwandan knowledge and understanding of the gorillas. The practical value of the natural forest for local water catchment protection could also be stressed. Anti-poaching could be intensified although such an effort would likely strengthen negative attitudes toward the park, at least in the short term. All of these actions were good. But the over whelming need was for a major source of revenue and employment to offset the powerful interests of MINAGRI and to win the hearts, minds and money pouches of those who lived around the Parc des Volcans. Politicians could be trusted to follow the money. Only tourism offered the potential to meet this need and radically alter the equation.

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