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A group of youth wearing gorilla costumes during the Kwita Izina ceremony. Photo by Gilbert Mwijuke

Why conservation in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park is so crucial

By Our Writer

There are currently about 900 mountain gorillas in total around the world. These critically endangered species can only be found in the Virunga chain of volcanic mountains that straddle Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Around half of them live in Rwanda, which is why conservation in this area is so crucial. They reside in the Virunga Mountains and are normally found very high up in the mountains, between 8,000 to 13,000 feet.

Unfortunately, these mountain gorillas have been struggling to survive for years. Conservation resulted in a 20 per cent increase in their population in the early 2000s, but they are still seriously under threat. Sadly, they are hunted by poachers and killed or taken from their natural habitat to be sold.

Poverty in the areas where they live forces poachers to hunt the gorillas to earn money. Poachers will also sell their heads, feet and hands on the black market. Occasionally, they get caught in snares or traps made to injure and capture other animals.

The mountain gorillas have endured poachers, periods of extreme violence and destruction of their habitat. Trees are cut down to create charcoal for the locals. Since humans have inhabited the local area, the gorillas have had to go further up the mountains to get away, facing more difficult terrain. Despite all this, they are still fighting to survive and conservationists are giving them a chance to thrive.

There are 19 recognised gorilla families in the Rwandan part of the park, and around 380 individual gorillas. These gorillas were made famous by the 1988 film ‘Gorillas In The Mist’ which told the story of Dian Fossey. One of the key ways to help these gorillas is to educate the local people and show them that the gorillas are an important part of the local economy, through tourism rather than poaching.

Greg Bakunzi of Amahoro Tours has been working hard to convert poachers into conservationists to help protect these amazing creatures. He first helped the poachers by encouraging them to raise animals such as goats to earn them a different kind of living.

The poachers then earned a living through other means, such as selling art around the park and working as drivers for Amahoro Tours. These poachers just need to see the light and realise there are other options available to them. There are now two drivers working for Amahoro Tours who used to be poachers but are now passionate about the conservation of the gorillas.

‘Amahoro’ means ‘peace’ which is very relevant to the gorillas, they should be left to live in peace and be free from persecution. Amahoro Tours offers trips to see the famous mountain gorillas. Visitor numbers are restricted, you can’t get too close and there is no flash photography to prevent disturbing the gorillas.


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