The good news about conservation success is becoming rare nowadays. That’s why when it was recently announced that the population of the mountain gorillas living in the Virunga mountains has increased, many conservationists must have opened the champagne to toast the news. However, still, the African wildlife is still under threat. And we must address, as those concerned with conservation, what measures should be undertaken to save our natural environment.
At Virunga Community Programs, we believe that to save the endangered species like the mountain gorillas, we should work with people living alongside them. For the short period we have interacted with them through our operations, we have developed some set of principles we hope will forge a successful partnership. This generation is presently witness to-and in several ways complicit in- mass extinction of species.
Those of us trying to save our biodiversity feel a compelling need to act, and quick. Driven by this passionate mission, several conservationists lobby to erect fences, enact more stringent legislation, and equip park rangers with guns. However, the killing of wildlife and depletion of forests still continue unabated. In Africa, imposing laws, science or policies onto communities without taking into account their well-being has been rarely effective-let alone ethical or appropriate. In our frantic efforts to turn the tide and protect these endangered species plus their habitats, we sometimes have not paused to consider the way these interventions may affect the individuals who share these habitats-mostly economically vulnerable rural communities who rely on those very ecosystems. While the government of Rwanda, for instance, through revenue sharing program has managed to involve the local community in conservation, in other parts of the continent, this has been rarely seen.
For instance, many countries enact laws that ban hunting, but did they actually ask the people what this would mean to them? Or even how restrictions on the use of land of protected areas would handicap their livelihoods, lives, and rituals?
Consequently, wildlife conservation in Africa in particular and the world, in general, is littered with examples of how unsuitable interventions can hamper conservation efforts. Fortunately, for the past few years, things are changing. We have witnessed an increasing number of conservationists, policymakers, practitioners, scientists and even governments working to conserve biodiversity and wildlife recognize the critical need to engage with local communities living in areas of concern.
The Rwanda success story of protecting the mountain gorillas is a perfect example of how engaging the local community through empowering them can go along way in making conservation efforts to bear fruits. Many people get into conservation since they deeply care about the natural world. They are interested in ecology. They want just to roll up their sleeves and “change the world”. But they lack some crucial element: enough training on how they should engage with local communities and what aspects they need to think about when they do.
We still have got some learning to do. The Virunga Community Programs promises to go off and find ways through which they can rope in the local communities in conservation efforts in the Virunga massif. We believe that where there is a will there's a way. We invite other partners to join us and jointly help in finding local solutions through which we can be able to eventually manage to conserve our wildlife and biodiversity.