The Rwanda Development Board’s (RDB) Tourism and Conservation Department, supported by the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, yesterday graduated another 120 rangers, ready for deployment into one of the four national parks and other areas of conservation value, protecting wildlife and boosting tourism.
120 rangers have undergone several months of paramilitary training, equipping them to serve as law enforcement and deterrent for poaching and other prohibited activities in Rwanda’s national parks. The wildlife protection initiative seeks to actively eradicate such ills in Rwanda’s national parks, following a three-fold approach: the strengthening of institutional capacity at RDB, the engagement of key stakeholders in promoting awareness and implementation of legal instruments, and the strengthening of trans-boundary collaboration. Recruitment and training of park rangers was identified as a key component to build up institutional capacity of rangers of the national parks. Having completed the intensive multipronged training, the just-graduated rangers are entering the field with the required knowledge and skills which will help them to improve systems and infrastructure for better patrolling and investigating thus alleviating wildlife crimes.
Overall, illegal activities in Rwanda’s national parks tend to be of subsistence needs – snare traps, bamboo cutting, artisanal mining, honey harvesting – rather than commercial poaching as is the case in other countries in the region. Due to the high human population density right up to the boundaries of the national parks, the collective impact of these illegal activities has affected the numbers of many species including carnivores, antelopes, elephants, and other species found on which the tourism industry and Rwandan economy greatly depend upon.
Speaking for RDB, the organization’s Chief Executive Officer, Honorable Francis Gatare said: “While the underlying causes of illegal activities within national parks are complex and rooted in socio-economic realities, the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) has initiated a series of interventions such as tourism revenue sharing, whereby 5% of total revenues generated by the national parks goes back to support the communities in increasing their wealth, compensation of the damages caused by wildlife, and equipping its staff by building the capacity in different areas such as law enforcement. We believe that with all these programs, we shall ultimately contribute to a reversal in the trend, thus decreasing illegal activities within the protected areas.” He added, “RDB shall continue working closely with its trans-boundary stakeholders to ensure that cross-border illegal activities are prevented and, therefore, reduced due to enhanced and coordinated efforts.”
Other milestone activities resulted in the construction of the 110-kilometer electrical fence on the western boundary of Akagera National Park, aimed to contain the human-wildlife conflict along the boundary. The acquisition of 8 specially-trained dogs through a Howard Buffet Foundation donation provided additional monitoring and enforcement capacity to RDB’s ranger force.
With tourism as the country’s top foreign exchange earner, Rwanda has emerged in the last decade on the forefront of progressive conservation of natural resources, setting the pace for the entire Eastern African region. The country now features 4 national parks – Akagera National Park, Nyungwe National Park, Volcanoes National Park, and the newly-launched Gishwati-Mukura National Park – a second forest national park which was in the making for several years. While illegal activities within these areas continue to be a threat to wildlife protection, the program’s three-pronged approach is providing mechanisms to address underlying causes of poaching and harvesting inside the parks to ensure the long-term survival of these areas which are vital to biodiversity conservation and Rwanda’s socio-economic development.