Virunga National Park, the oldest national park in Africa, is home to more than a quarter of the critically endangered mountain gorilla's world population. It is a UNESCO world heritage site and one of the most biodiverse habitats on the planet. The park has 700 dedicated rangers that are currently protecting the parks against the pressures of illegal poaching, armed groups, and land encroachment.
The once critically endangered mountain gorillas, Gorilla beringei beringei, have been downgraded to the 'endangered status' by IUCN in 2018
I have had the privilege of reaching out to one of the people behind the conservation success story at Virunga National Park.
Taranee : Hi Alain, thank you very much for participating in this interview. May I ask what has been your area of focus in conservation?
Alain : Hi Taranee. It is my pleasure, thank you for the question. I am currently focused on gorilla monitoring, protected area management, heritage conservation, environmental education, and storytelling. I am the Deputy Director of Gorilla Ambassadors, a programme initiated in 2019 in Virunga National Park. This programme aims to contribute to the protection and conservation of the endangered Mountain Gorilla through environmental education
Taranee : That sounds amazing! It is great to see how dedicated you have been with regard to wildlife protection. May I ask how has your current conservation work impacted the Mountain Gorillas at Virunga?
Alain : Thank you for the kind words Taranee. My job is probably the best in the world. Not just fun and adventurous, it's exciting. Thanks to our commitment to environmental education since 2019, the rate of poaching has decreased in Virunga National Park. Aside from this, our sensitization campaigns have led to the once conflicting cohabitation between the park rangers and the local communities, and between neighbouring communities, to become peaceful. Nowadays, new recruits from the local youths are being enlisted to become rangers.
Taranee : Wow, it's great to realise that yet again community empowerment plays a large role in conservation success. What are some of the lessons learned so far in your journey?
Alain : As you mentioned, community empowerment is key. With my experience in the conservation field, I have realized that there is a need to involve and engage local and indigenous communities. Police-based conservation unlike community-based conservation, has its limitations with armed rangers who are often in constant conflict with local riparian communities.
Invest in the community, especially in the youth and the valorisation of indigenous and local knowledge. This is because they actively participate in the conservation of nature through practices/traditions, or at times in the destruction of biodiversity due to lack of information, inappropriate land use, and agricultural practices such as burning and fallowing in tropical Africa - Alain
Taranee : What do you think is currently missing in local wildlife conservation efforts?
Alain : In Africa, in my opinion, there is a need to provide more information to communities through reinforcement, translation into local languages, and popularization of legal texts and national and international treaties on conservation. These are often made in big modules and collections, and usually in English or French which constitute a barrier for local communities who have limited education opportunities
As we are already doing, it is useful to promote storytelling to inform and sensitise local communities about conservation through their cultures and use of local language. The creation of simple and free platforms with conservation messages could make it easier for communities to access and understand information even in isolated rural areas - Alain
Taranee : That has been some great insights, Alain, thank you very much for your time and for sharing your knowledge with us at WildHub. I am sure it will be helpful to those involved in species management/wildlife conservation, especially in Africa. I wish you luck in your future endeavours and many more successes.
This interview would not have been possible without my Conservation Catalyst coach, Christine Tansey. Thank you Christine :)