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Can we protect hippos from poaching in Virunga?

Major causes of declines in wildlife in developing countries witnessed during the recent decades have been population growth, habitat fragmentation, inadequate land use practices and management, lack of economic alternatives, and unsustainable use of resources. In a conflict region like the Easternof the Democratic Republic of Congo, the fauna has been targeted by different armed groups and local people for meat and illegal wildlife and wildlife product trafficking. Among species that have been most poached is thecommon hippopotamus.

Hippopotamus in Ishasha River near a Ranger camp

In Virunga National Park (ViNP*) for example, numbers dropped by 98% from 30,000 in the 1970s to 629 individuals in 2006. With increased patrolling and transboundary cooperation between the DRC and Uganda park authorities, there is hope that hippopotamuses will still exist in Virunga National as the Ishasha river still inhabit a bit of hippopotamus population.

Hippopotamus in Ishasha River near a Ranger camp

The patrolling efforts along the hippopotamus habitats are still low and there is need of closer monitoring to protect them from poaching for bushmeat.

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Thanks to Robert J., Anna, Jessica, Emmerentiane and Antonio for their support to our activities!

 


* The abbreviation ViNP to distinguish Virunga National Park in DRC from Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda

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.

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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.

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Kobs in Virunga Park

Let’s hope for Virunga.


FROM PATROL TO ACTION: USEFUL DATA COLLECTED

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.

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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.

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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.

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Pic4- Political awareness meeting in Goma

Mont Hoyo: a Forgotten Site for conservation and tourism

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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!

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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).

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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.

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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.

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Mont Hoyo Guest house View of the grave

The worlds forgotten paradise – the Albertine Rift

Hello everyone, I am Deo Kujirakwinja, just call me Deo! I work for the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) on the Virunga Conservation Project.

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I was born and studied in Goma and have been working for Virunga National Park since 2003. I conduct biological surveys, this is me during a recent survey.

First, let me tell you about this amazing Park. Virunga Park is contiguous to 11 protected areas and reserves in Rwanda and Uganda. This is one of the most special places on the planet, its called the Albertine Rift. In a recently conducted by WCS in which I participated, we found a high level of biodiversity in the gallery forests and woodlands, including chimpanzees, bongos, buffalo, elephants, leopards, and several types of monkeys, including a subspecies of colobus monkey found only here. We also recorded a high diversity of birds, reptiles, and amphibians, as well as some plants that may be new to science. In our two-month expedition we discovered 6 new species!!!! These include a bat, a rodent, two shrews and two frogs. I believe that this forest contains some interesting new species because it has been isolated from much of the Congo Forest block for at least 10,000 years. But due to poaching, we hardly saw any large mammals.

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To effectively manage the area, there is need of collaboration with other managers to tackle regional threats. This has been one of my favourite jobs in the northern and eastern Virunga for transboundary resource management collaboration activities which has improved relationship between Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) and the Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN)

My job involves ranger-based monitoring system: in order to get the status of the forest, I have been helping ICCN staff to launch the surveillance data gathering and management system for the whole Park. This involves capacity building actions including field based training for staff involved in Ranger-based monitoring and technical support.

As you all know from the gorilla blog, a consequence of civil war in DRC has been destruction of park infrastructure (ranger post), looting of field equipments and it is a hard work to re-establish the infrastructure and get rangers motivated and equipped.

I’ve been leading biological surveys in Virunga Park and other forests in Eastern DRC. Some people wonder why I do this in such a difficult area. Well, I am committed to contributing to better conservation of wildlife in DRC, particularly in Virunga National Park.