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 :)
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A wonderful and inspiring interview@Taranee and@Alain Mukiranya
@Alain Mukiranya : your insights about the language barrier to understanding policies and international treaties resonated with me. Thank you for sharing.
I also wanted to ask you; what is your favourite story you use for raising awareness because of its impact?
@Taranee What was your favourite part of the Conservation Catalyst process?
A big shout out to WildHub coach@Christine Tansey for facilitating this process!
Thank you very much for the interest and for your sensitivity.
I often start by telling my love story with nature.
The story of my encounter with the gorillas in the forest when we were little.
This is to encourage them to give more meaning and passion to their encounter with the animals in the park.
Afterwards I ask some members of the community to tell us about their encounters with the gorillas, how it was and how they felt when they first met the animals in the park.
That’s inspiring to read@Alain Mukiranya ; thank you for sharing
Perhaps worth connecting with our member@Aiita Joshua Apamaku who has an interest in this too - it would be fantastic if you would join forces and share a top 5 lessons learned on storytelling for conservation :)
Thanks for sharing this amazing story @Alain Mukiranya It's so exciting to learn how different people connect and interact with nature and how they have evolved to impact the communities around them.
Resonates with the conservation storytelling podcast I've been working on with respect to protected and conserved areas in Africa (listen here)
Thanks for tagging me here @Thirza Loffeld
On a side note, did we meet at the IUCN Africa Protected Areas Congress last year @Alain Mukiranya ?
Dear @Thirza Loffeld
Thank you very much for the interest and connection with my colleague @Aiita Joshua Apamaku
We met in August 2022 at the Africa Protected Areas Congress in Kigali, Rwanda.
We even had several activities together at the youth pavilion with Natureforall.
I think it will be great if we grow together, especially in learning and common project, because here in the Congo, storytelling is not as advanced as it is in Kenya, South Africa, or elsewhere.
@Thirza Loffeld Thank you for the kind words :) My favourite part is that I really enjoyed connecting with people from different parts of the world, and understanding their stories/journeys in conservation. I have even made a lovely friend with @Alain Mukiranya through being part of this Conservation Catalysts process :)
I met wonderful people from a community of natural scientists from whom I learned a lot from their experiences in nature conservation.
@Taranee is the best one.
Hi @Alain Mukiranya and @Aiita Joshua Apamaku amazing to read that you two have already met in person! I look forward to reading any updates about your collaboration/sharing insights together :)
Great to see this thread and the connections among our WildHub community!
Thank you @Taranee for such an interesting interview with @Alain Mukiranya - I enjoyed reading about Alain's experience so much!
Thank you for your interest dear @Christine Tansey
@Alain Mukiranya it was great to read about your focus on community conservation, and education within local communities. Such similarities with the work that WildTeam Bangladesh do around Tigers, your experiences may also interest some of WildTeam's current/former staff @Md Sarowar Jahan @Syed Tanvir Hossain @Gawsia Wahidunnessa Chowdhury
Thank you @Taranee and @Alain Mukiranya for the great interview, it was most interesting.
This is great.
Thank you Alain and Taranee for the great lesson.
Wow, great interview Alain and Taranee. Sounds like you do amazing work for conservation in Virunga, Alain. Really interesting to read about!
This is a great interview! @Alain Mukiranya you are doing a very good job.
What a wonderful interview thank you for sharing!