Uganda Travel News

News of the pending cattle project and park conversation forced the need for decisions and action. The mountain gorilla preservation fund was sitting on substantial sums of money and wanted to show contributors that action was under way to save gorillas. The fund decided that Sandy Harcourt would return to Rwanda with the Swedish conservation and author Kai Curry-Lindah! Curry Lindah had spent some time in the Virunga during the colonial era and was selected as a senior emissary. Their mission was to determine a plan of action, identify willing partners and sign an agreement and cooperation with ORTPN was a precondition. It was implied that other partners namely, Dian were welcome but not required.

We had worked extremely hard to form good working relations with ORTPN staff convinced that the future of the park and gorillas intimately depended on a vast improvement in their performance. We were also convinced that this improvement would be a long term process with many ups and downs along the way. In 1979 the park service was incapable of formulating or managing an effective gorilla conservation program on its own. Belgian advisor like Alain Monfort were helpful but comprised by their own and their governments much greater interest in the savanna wildlife of the Akagera park in Eastern Rwanda. The gorillas needed strong independent advocates for their interest’s people on the ground in Rwanda who could help plan the activities of the mountain gorilla preservation fund, work with ORTPN and other groups and assure the effective use of funds. We were willing to play this role but we had only local standing. Sandy was living in England and planning an academic career. Dian was the only one with a global reputation who could endorse any plan and help to solicit greater support. Up to that point; however she had used her power only to veto any action.

We were aware of the Harcourt and Curry Lindah!. Mission thanks to Sandy and Alain, who passed correspondence on to Bill when he visited Kigali. When the dates and objectives were set, we again approached Dian to request her participation. Playing to her known antipathies, we argued that the project would go forward no matter what, but that without her participation all decisions would be made by ORTPN, Harcourt and Monfort. This was the most unholy trinity that Dian could imagine. She began to budge what would her role be? We honestly believed that Dian was needed as a fund raising icon for her global constituency and that her views and ideas should be taken into consideration in developing a conservation plan. We also thought that she would be an impossible partner especially for the Rwandans in any day to day working relationship. With somewhat less candor, we stressed the need for her input and global leadership. Who would lead anti poaching efforts? This would require an improved park guard force; we answered adding that they would of course benefit from special training from Karisoke staff. Dian countered that she was learning toward hiring American and European guards through her digit fund. What about tourism? This was unacceptable to Dian. We were not unqualified enthusiasts either after our negative experiences with uncontrolled tourists in Kahizi Biega and a few Kenyan parks. Yet tourism offered the only source of revenue and employment that might offset the claims of the cattle project as well as provide potentially sustainable funding for improved park security. We felt that tourism must be considered as part of any search for a solution. Our discussion ended on this subject. Dian reiterated that she would not meet with Harcourt or Curry Lindah! She ordered us not to talk with them, either stating bluntly that we would be banned from Karisoke if we did.

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