Author Archives: Paula

Ranger Data collection as a tool for ecosystem monitoring

Virunga as a first National Park in Africa is facing several threats which need to be monitored so that people can measure the level and extents of different threats and apply a suitable strategy.


Rangers on patrols in Vitshumbi areas

In order to ensure its protection, Virunga Park rangers are in patrols everyday in different accessible areas of the Park. During their exercise, they collect data about animals, habitats and other specific information which may inform people about the ecosystem health.

To enable this, we have been working with ICCN (Park Authority) to establish a system whereby rangers collect data on the ground and entered into computer at station and headquarters levels so that the data can be processed and analysed to give out information.

To reach this level, there are different activities implemented and others which need to be covered. We’ve been able to train, equip and supervise the different stations in the system. Still, there is need of getting senior rangers to the different ranger posts to assess the way data is collected and ensure that outside data is collected (information about fishing, population in fishing villages, etc.). As the equipment going to the field is facing handling problems (rain, lost during gunshot exchange), there is need of having other supplies such as GPS, computers, etc.

At least, the system has shown the different changes all over the 4 years of the database. There is a decrease in some illegal activities and increase in encountering animals on the field.


Kobs in Virunga Park

Let’s hope for Virunga.

Natural resource use in Virunga neighbouring villages.

Virunga National park located in Eastern DRC is among the richest protected area in terms of animals and plants. Some of these species cannot be found every where apart from the Virunga surrounding regions (e.g. Gorillas).
Covering about 8,000sqkm, Virunga Park is surrounded by a populated region which might be among the highest in DRC – up to 350 habitant/km². In these different areas, natural resources are the most used as about 80% of rural areas in DRC depend on agriculture and use firewood as source of energy.
In order to get firewood, local communities are obliged to get into the park –in most of the surrounding areas – and get some trees cut down for survival purposes. Besides firewood, charcoal is also the main forest killer in the area as the Park is surrounded by 3 big towns (Goma, Butembo and Beni) and others cities (Kiwanja, Rutshuru, Kasindi, etc.) where charcoal is the most used in different households for cooking.
In other areas where there are still some patches of forest, people are cutting down forests for timber, charcoal and firewood.

Picture 1 – How do we carry firewood?

Surrounding communities as future threats to protected forests
Protecting Parks and forests is seen as a management purpose than a common benefit in Africa and especially in DRC.
The forest on community lands is reducing every day and year leaving behind the protected areas as lonely and isolated forested areas.
Even if the forest on community lands is finished, local communities and surrounding towns’ population will still need charcoal, firewood and timber and the only place to get these will be into the protected areas. That’s the future threat towards natural resource exploitation in the Virunga region.
And this is more serious when you consider the birth rates of the areas and their economic status!
More threats towards conservationist than how it is now!

Picture 2 – Deforested areas

Actions to be taken for both sides
In order to get this threat reduced, there is need of working on both sides – developing incentives in the community areas and actions for resources sharing with neighbouring communities on the community side and protection of resource with community on the other side.
Among solutions, get networks organized for community and individual plantations for timber products for communities.
To manage to get people committed to such activities, there is need of technical and financial supports.


Picture 3 –Need to work together to stop the deforestation of the park.


Protected areas in Africa are seen like a store where people must be going to collect resource in scarce periods. This is one side of the vision while conservation institutions and organisation see that as a last shelter to protect wildlife species and enable environmental services for the benefit of the world. This being said, local people are aware of the legal prohibitions about park resources but they do want to get in for survival.For this reason, the mandated institutions have rangers trained and equipped to make sure that the area is surveyed.

Pic1.-Rangers going for overnight patrolling in Lulimbi sector/Virunga National Park

Why rangers do they go for patrolling?

They do patrols to discourage and arrest illegal collectors of resources such as poachers who enter into the park to kill wildlife. For poachers, they don’t care about the status of animal (they don’t care about the number of individuals which are still alive in the world), settlers and invaders who are occupying different habitats that are suitable for wildlife. they do patrols to make sure that the conservation law is respected and have data collected to enable monitoring of the park status.

What do rangers find in the bush?

During patrols, rangers in the field they might find armed poachers, settlers, armed groups people, alive wildlife, etc. Once in the field, rangers meet with armed poachers and people and they have to exchange boo lets. Because of this, there are some rangers killed or injured on duty. We’ve got about 100 rangers killed in Virunga since the 90s (civil conflict in DRC). They also have to destroy some illegal camps and arrest owners and take them to court or get them back to their villages after awareness sessions.

What data do they collect?

Once in the field, rangers collect information about wildlife seen, their sightings and dropping; dead induces, poaching signs and ecosystem status. This information collected is compiled as reports and used for management purposes.


Pics 2&3 – Top: Sighting of Okapi in Virunga Park and Below: Hippopotamus in Ishasha river/Virunga National park

Does field data used for action?

Data collected and entered into computers, the report is sent out to managers and partners to make sure that they are aware of different threats in the protected area. The report states also some of recommendations to be meant by different authorities if they want the park to be protected. This has been used to convince local authorities to support conservation efforts, but also to determine which areas must be targeted as priority.


Pic4- Political awareness meeting in Goma

How research helps to protect protected areas

Mushroom in Virunga Park

Mushroom in Virunga National Park

As in the previous information, Mont Hoyo is very interesting for both tourism and research. For tourism as it has some potentials described latter and for research as there has been no research in the forest as we know.

The plan was to survey the area in order to gather biological information and give some useful recommendations. As a forest reserve and following DRC law, it must be fully protected and no human activity is allowed.

In our visit to Mont Hoyo, we noticed that there are several illegal activities carried by local population and some armed people. It has been a plan to get the army responsible to know that there are some illegal activities carried by armed people (soldiers) and nothing has been done on their side. In order to ensure that there is no shooting from these poachers, some actions were planned to arrest the poachers without shooting as people in the area are still stressed by war.

We planned the survey and get military and political authorities to know that we are planning a survey. Even if the security situation has worsened in the neighbouring areas of Mont Hoyo, this plan has been used to arrest the armed poachers in Mont Hoyo.

They were called to join the researcher team for administrative purposes and guide them while the real purpose was to get them arrested. This has been done and they are under arrest.

The other case is, during the biological surveys conducted in Semuliki (Virunga Park); during the research work, several poaching materials are destroyed and removed and large area is covered and give an global picture of the status of the area to manager. E.g.: there have been a hundred of snares removed from the Park, some area not covered by ranger patrols have been covered and the local community sensitised during evening walk in the village.

Rope snare.JPGranger_snare.JPG

Left: Rope snare sample found in Virunga National Park – Right: Ranger in research team getting GPS data

With the money gained from surveys, local communities are aware that, if the protected area is destroyed there will never be any research in the area and they may not get any visitor compared to other areas where they are helping protected area managers to conserve.

Mont Hoyo: a Forgotten Site for conservation and tourism


The Mont Hoyo is located in Eastern DRC (E 1.24750 – N 29.80918) at 125 km far from beni town in Irumu territory, ranging from 1300 m to 1500 m of elevation.

Mont Hoyo is among touristic areas which had some socioeconomic impacts on local communities livelihoods. With different armed crisis and presence of different factions of militias, it has been abandoned by tour operators and ICCN (the Congolese conservation agency) followed by people displacement.

ICCN left the site in 1996 during the first liberation war led by Mzee Laurent Kabila and local population left the area in 2002. They are resettling now from the different IDPs (Internal Displaced People) camps.

Mont Hoyo has been created in 1947 and there is no clear idea about its richness in terms of fauna and flora a part from the tourism attraction about graves.

Information collected on ground states that there is some animals present there such as Okapi, warthog, porcupine, pangolin, chimpanzee, elephant, etc.

Mont Hoyo was among the best destination for visitors and there has been a wonderful guest house, some people who has visited it said.

Two main groups inhabit the surrounding areas of Mont Hoyo: Lesse group and Pygmies and their local economy depends on tourism. Nowadays, they are trying to resettle but there is no sign of economic activities. Their main activities are agriculture and hunting. The nearest market where they can go sell their goods is located at 25 km!

pygmee camp.JPGDeo&pygmee.JPG

Pygmy camp (about 34 people) Pygmy with Deo

During our last travel to Mont Hoyo, we had to walk for 13.5 km two ways (=27 km) in order to reach the summit. The road is bad conditions and it cannot be used even by a motorcycle. There are about 13 small bridges to be rehabilitated and 1 long one (12 m).


During our travel, there is no where you can buy even a sweet or small snacks! But, everyone is praying so that ICCN can come back as it’s the only way the Mont can be reopened and revive the tourism activities.

Unfortunately, due to the absence of ICCN, who is lacking field equipments for rangers to be deployed in the area, there is a traditional and armed poaching going on against monkeys and duikers.


It’s a wonderful place where you can visit graves and get to know about Pygmies and their life. But there are some actions to be done before with support from everyone who wants this site to be renewed: bridges renovation, house renovation, field equipments for trackers (rangers), support to local communities, etc.

guesthouse_MontHoyo.JPGview of the grave.JPG

Mont Hoyo Guest house View of the grave

How communities can help to protect Wildlife

During this two weeks, we’ve been conducting biological surveys in Semuliki area (Virunga National park). I got to look for cutters and trackers who coils help us to get into the forest to find our lines.

Semuliki forest 022.JPG

Later on, I discovered that the people we were using are organised into a local association called OAN (Organisation des Amis de la Nature = Organisation for friends of nature). Among the activities they are conducting:

chimpanzee monitoring

local communities of Mwenda have been able to protect a patch of forest closed to Mt Ruwenzori (DRC) where occur chimpanzees. They have been following these cousins of human without any support (technical or financial). They are kin monitoring chimps even if they don’t have any field equipment, field ration during monitoring or data sheet, etc.

If supported, they can help to save these threatened species of which their numbers is going down everyday.

They have field staff moving in the field everyday hiking the base of Ruwenzori.

vegetable farming

Wildlife protection is the key of their activities but they add in some other activities that can support the wildlife related activities. They’ve got some farm to grow vegetables at small scale. It’s known that the small scale agricultural activities is enough to fulfil all the food needs for the household. But when it comes to diversifying economic activities, you need to increase and improve your techniques of growing food. Thus, this local organisation needs to get different agricultural inputs to make their activity important for conservation.

tree nursing

Our country (DRC) is among countries where citizen still depend more than 95% on natural timber resources for different options without alternatives or suitable techniques. For cooking or building, the main product to use is still timber. People have to look for trees to cut to fulfil these needs. In order to reduce and make people aware of the future danger, OAN has been trying to put in place some areas to make available trees for plantation in the village. Still, the area covered and the target is still not enough.

This has been made possible in combination with public awareness and sensitisation.


Charcoal made out of wood

information gathering about wildlife killing

protect wildlife doesn’t rely only on rangers or again on patrols. There is need of information gathering in order to get some targeted places chosen by poachers. This information can be made available through different channels. In this specific area (Mwenda), this local organisation is helping to provide information about different actors involved in illegal exploitation of natural resources within the Park. They collect information from different villagers and get information to managers through different ways, depending on how the manager is confident to them and dedicated to the protection of the Park.

Semuliki forest 001.JPG

So, it’s possible to protect protected areas and community forests with local organisations within the village by providing them capacity!

Fish is more a community ressource than a biologic resource

At the creation of Virunga Park, local communities used to fish in Lake Edward with traditional tools and equipment under the local management structures. During colonial period, the Park was created and included Lake Edward as part of Virunga park. As part of the culture, the Park Manager has left the fishing privilege to communities and allowed local population to fish but under a cooperative structure.

As per now, the situation has worsened and became a threat toward conservation of the Park. At the creation of the Park, there were only two fishing villages and now there are more than 15 villages. These villages has also increased in size.


Nyakakoma fishing villages 2006

If fish was biological resource, it could be more important for local communities. In the region, fish is more important as it provides different benefits:

  1. food for community in the fishing villages
  2. food for surrounding communities
  3. commercial activity for fishing population
  4. opportunity for business of manufactured products

Beside these opportunities, fish is source of conflict between different stakeholders: conservation institution, marine and infantry forces, public services, local communities and administration.

The over fishing has led people to adapt themselves to the current situation and develop survival mechanism which implies fauna poaching, armed group creation, deforestation and encroachment.

We’ve been working with the different communities to solve this conflict.


Meeting with stakeholders

This has been done through a participatory process:

  • conflict analysis
  • strategy definition
  • planning meeting
  • set up a monitoring and evaluation team
  • activity implementation

It appears that when interest of different groups are threatened, it become easy to get people involved into a resolution conflict process.

Camion poisson1.JPG

How do we go for fish?

The main interest is that local communities has noticed that fish stock has decreased and this has led to involvement of communities into the process.

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Managing natural resource conflict in Virunga

Virunga National Park located in the Eastern of the Democratic Republic of Congo is managed by ICCN with support from different International NGO. While it enhabits several species and endemic species, this protected area is facing different problems from various stakeholders. As the whole surrounding countries relay on natural resources to survive: timber, firewood, medecinal plants, water in some areas; there are most of the time confrontations between Managers and local communities.

People are collecting resources from the Virunga for various reasons:

  1. for basic needs

About 90% of local communitites surrounding Virunga Park are farmers with small lands and traditionnal means and technics. They most of them producing for their basic needs and the supplement is sold to get some cash to fulfil other needs like medication, school fees for their kids, etc. Some of theme are using Park land to get more profits or they settle within the Park and leave their original lands. This has been one of the difficult conflict to solve as at some cases. The poaching is also one mean used by some communities to get meat as animal protein source for the family. This has been said, some communities are poaching because they’ve lost their animals and need meat; others are doing that as their habit. People are collecting firewood from the Park either illegally (none is allowed to collect something from the Park as it is classified under the UICN category of National park but also, as directed by the DRC conservation law) or “legally” (in some areas, as a response to the local communities pressure, the Park Manager has agreed to allow firewood collection at weekly basis but without a legal frame).


Some actions could be useful at this stage as like to help local communities to develop agroforestry techniques so that they don’t rely on Park resources much, but also get the two parties to have a memorandum of understanding about firewood collection and design a management mechanism about it as there is none for now. The only limit is logistics which is a good help to allow us making this link.

2. for cash

These resources harvested are not used only for basic needs in some places by some actors. Most of illegal resource harvesting done by armed groups is for commercial purposes. They do collect different products including animals which are killed in order to be sold as bushmeat or for their trophies and ivories. This has a direct effect on animal population as the number decreases when there is heavy poaching and less antipoaching actions conducted by park rangers and funds available for ranger rations and field equipments.

Local communities are also using some local agreement (firewood collection) to get money instead of using the different resources for their households direct benefit. For example, firewood collected is being sold instead of being used. This is also the case even regarding some crops, people are cultivating and harvest for sale and then buy food from other areas, even if it’s expensive compared to their villages.

Hyppo meat_ICCN.JPG

This is the destructive exploitation of resources in the Park as it involves armed people and targets theratened species.

3. for their own activities

Other members of local communities are harvesting resources from the Park to develop their own work as they are using medecinal plants to heal people or using wild materials to make some products to be sold: baskets, mats, etc.

These people are easy to work with as they are willing to protect their basic materials and continue getting money from their expertise. Some of them are making honey and don’t have required equipments to be competitive with other products, others are making souvenirs, etc.


Help park people to work with community in 2008


Wildlife is more interesting when people try to look into their eyes. When you try to look into wildlife eyes, you think about their needs in terms of habitat, food, shelter, movement. When people kill wildlife, they don’t look into their eyes; they look on their bodies, shape and trophies, etc.



Virunga NP is facing poaching for both commercial and domestic needs in bushmeat. In order to discourage this process which can lead to species depletion, rangers carry out patrols in the Park with support from NGOs working in Conservation. This action is done also during any monitoring of wildlife in the park.



This has been one of the toughest missions of rangers during these two decades in Virunga Park and ICCN (Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature) has lost over 100 rangers on duty. As a consequence, there are widows and orphans without assistance.
But also, rangers are working under pressure in need of field equipments and shelter. Some of the ranger posts have been rehabilitated with partners’ support; others are still in traditional status and makes rangers vulnerable to any armed attacks as they face it frequently.

Helping rangers, saves the most biodiverse and the oldest Park of Africa!



We are proud of individual donors who have donated to this project and specially Robert J.G.

Endangered Species Protected By Endangered People


As stated in my first post, Virunga National Park is the oldest Park in Africa created in 1925 and recognised by UNESCO as a World heritage Site in 1979. To enable its protection, the Park is managed by a public Institution which has been weakened by the different socioeconomic crisis’s in the eastern DRC.

The ICCN (Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature) has employed more than 600 rangers to protect the Park. These rangers are working everyday and living with their families in the ranger posts inside the Park. Most of these rangers have wives and children.

In our recent census in one ranger post (28 rangers), the average of household is 9. Rangers have been working since the creation of the Park and are paid less now despite the bonus given to them by International NGOs.

The effect of the civil war is still harming the park and field staff. There have been more than 100 rangers killed and many others injured.


Most of the Park infrastructure has been destroyed by the effect of war. Therefore, rangers are living in huts which they have to build themselves made by mud and grass. I have been working with the ICCN to try the best and get some ranger posts renovated but there is a lot to do to improve the conditions for the rangers who are working for the worldwide richness by protecting the park but living in bad conditions.

Kabasha Before


Kabasha after construction

It is very difficult to imagine that people are still living under these circumstances.

Socioeconomic life

It’s difficult to support conservation activities without thinking about people lives. As workers, rangers are being badly/less paid even though there is a support from International NGOs to try to supplement their thin and unimaginable salaries. The overall life in Africa is not only based on salaries but also on economic activities which can supplement the household budget. Rangers wives have been doing several things in order to get the household’s life better: some are selling local beer, fish, basic manufactured products, others are selling agricultural products. They needed to get more funds to get started in case there is one of them who has failed in her business.

I have been visiting rangers since 2003, and this year I’ve been thinking of helping rangers’ wives to set up a group to enable themselves to help each other. They’ve established a local committee and they have secured 50$ from their own activities and got support from us. It has been a good time for us as we’ve got support and we’ll try to work hard to improve our activities to support our family’s life.


Lulimbi womens group in an evaluation meeting.
Conservation partnership

At local level, NGOs are supporting protected area management activities through a strong partnership. There is another idea of local conservation partnership which we are setting up. We think, as conservationist workers, we are getting revenues from services which are paid to us by NGOs where we are employees. There is also need of helping other conservationists who are suffering because their fathers are working in Virunga. So, as workers we’ve put in place a monthly basket to enable us to assist rangers and their family but in a social way. Some conservation NGO workers are giving monthly amount and plan to support some social actions in the Park.

In most of the Park stations, they are schools put in place to cater/educate rangers’ children, but they don’t get any support.

This quarter, we’ve been able to assist a school for Rangers’ children in Kabaraza with pens, pencils, chalks and exercise books. This is one of the cases but there is need to support the other 4 ranger stations in the Virunga NP.


Types of donated school supplies


School facilities donated  for the ranger’s children

The situation is much more complicated than we think!