What you need to know:
- Nelson Guma, the Chief Warden of the Bwindi-Mgahinga Conservation area in Western Uganda says one of the ways how wildlife is conserved for the present and future generations is through programs such as revenue sharing that heavily relies on tourism.
Uganda is home to 10 national parks spread across different regions. This makes it one of the best tourist destinations in East Africa and Africa with vast wildlife. However, some of the threats to wildlife conservation include activities such as agriculture, poaching and the population growth that has over the years exerted pressure on national parkland.
Nelson Guma, the Chief Warden of the Bwindi-Mgahinga Conservation area in Western Uganda says one of the ways how wildlife is conserved for the present and future generations is through programs such as revenue sharing that heavily relies on tourism. What is called a revenue share comes from park entrance fees paid by tourists. When national and international tourists pay park entrance fees, 20 per cent of it is set aside for the revenue-sharing fund. Similarly, for every gorilla tracking permit sold, a contribution of $10, which is equivalent to Shs36,000 goes to the revenue-sharing fund that targets community development.
How it works
Guma says the revenue-sharing fund is determined under different key areas. One of them is improving livelihoods and community economic boosting initiatives. For instance, some communities around Bwindi Impenetrable National Park have nutrition projects where they grow vegetables and Irish potatoes to supply restaurants and hotels for tourists.
“When communities plant and sell the harvest, they make money. The fund also maintains some access roads that connect communities to main roads to increase access to markets under the livelihood program. These end up improving community household incomes. When communities relate this to the existence of the different national parks, they are motivated to participate in park conservation,” Guma explains.
Preventing animal and human conflicts
In Bwindi and Mgahinga area, wild animals such as gorillas, buffalos and elephants sometimes invade neighbouring communities especially at night in search of food from community gardens. Before the revenue sharing program was introduced, locals often revenged by killing wild animals. According to Guma, it takes a community mindset change to prevent animal-to-human conflicts. For example, in Bwindi Impenetrable, a park popularly known for gorilla tracking, after communities realised the benefits of wildlife conservation, they mobilised themselves into wildlife cults called human gorilla (HUGO) conflict resolution teams.
“When gorillas come out of the parks, communities voluntarily push them back and communicate to other community members about not harming them because they understand the benefits,” Guma adds.
Sometimes the revenue-sharing fund extends into acquiring gear such as gumboots and raincoats for locals to enable them to conserve wildlife easily. While locals who guard against elephant crop invasion at night are provided with bright light torches, some of the money from the revenue-sharing fund is used to buy hedges and Mauritius thorn seeds for locals to plant on the edge of their gardens. These hedges and thorns stop animals from crossing from the park to community gardens. Some locals grow tea as a buffer crop, where it (tea) mitigates human-to-wildlife conflict, at the same time earning locals from the sale of tea, something that benefits communities in the long run.
Improving social services
Some areas around national parks are remote and have no social services such as health centres and schools that the fund helps set up. These, to Guma, are considered a public good that communities utilise by taking their children to school but also offer medical services to locals.
There are also areas such as those around Mgahinga National Park in Kisoro district that are water stressed where the fund is used to build community halls. The water from the roof is then harvested into a water storage tank for communities to use. Communities are then able to appreciate the benefits of the park and participate in different conservation activities.
Gorilla tracking fees
According to Guma, a gorilla tracking permit for locals is Shs250,000 and $600, equivalent to Shs2.2m for foreign residents living in Uganda. If you are a foreign resident not living in Uganda, you pay $700, which is equivalent to Shs2.5m.
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park occupies 321 Square kilometres. It is bordered by DR Congo on one side with Sarambwe National Park and is one of the parks found in the Greater Virunga landscape shared by Uganda, Congo and Rwanda. The landscape covers the central part of the Albertine Rift that straddles the borders of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Uganda and is one of the most diverse landscapes in the world, known as the world’s hotspot for biodiversity conservation.