Human-wildlife conflict management: Experiences and lessons learned from the greater virunga landscape
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This study was conducted by the Institute of Tropical Forest Conservation (ITFC) of Mbarara University of Science and Technology, Uganda, with the support of the Greater Virunga Transboundary Secretariat, based in Kigali, Rwanda. The main objective of the study was collect and synthesize information about the experiences and lessons learned on Human-Wildlife Conflict management in the seven protected areas of the Greater Virunga Landscape - Semuliki, Rwenzori Mountains, Queen Elizabeth (including Kyambura and Kigezi Wildlife Reserves), Bwindi Impenetrable, Mgahinga Gorilla National Parks in Uganda, Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, and Virunga National Park in DR Congo. Information on Human-Wildlife Conflict management experiences and expertise of the various stakeholders from the different sites is scattered in published scholarly literature, unpublished documents and reports, some already archived or obscure, or the information is “stored” in the great minds of individuals who initiated and/or implement the Human-Wildlife Conflict mitigation programs. These useful and informative sources are extremely hard to access, making it exceedingly difficult to know what has been done and where, the successes, challenges and lessons learned on Human-Wildlife Conflict management. There is virtually little or no coordination among the sites implementing the Human-Wildlife Conflict interventions. Lack of coordination sometimes results in protected area managers unknowingly repeating the same mistakes in Human-Wildlife Conflict management that have been committed elsewhere and also makes the scaling up of successful Human-Wildlife Conflict reduction strategies near to impossible. Given the politically volatile nature of the conflict between humans and wildlife, there is an urgent need to synthesize and summarize the existing information on the experiences and lessons learned on Human-Wildlife Conflict management so that the information can be easily accessed and disseminated to the stakeholders so as to inform management efforts on reducing crop/livestock loss, injuries or deaths due to wildlife, form a basis for collaboration among the different protected areas managers, and formulation of appropriate policy on Human-Wildlife Conflict. The three countries in GVL have different wildlife policies and laws. Their evolution is linked to the different governance histories that date back to the colonial period in the early 19th century when protected areas were established and the post-establishment war and insecurity that have bedeviled each country at different time periods in the last 50 years. Today, the participation of local populations and authorities in the management of Human-Wildlife Conflict is being formalized and institutionalized in Uganda and Rwanda compared to DR Congo where participatory management is still in its infancy. Such difference in policy and legislation and their evolution creates difficulty when it comes to managing problem animals in transboundary protected areas. Rwanda has amended its wildlife laws to cater for compensation due to damages and injuries caused by wildlife. In DR Congo, a ministerial directive has been made to ICCN to look into the modalities of also implementing a compensation scheme. In spite of all the protected areas lying in the same region, the Human-Wildlife Conflict situation varies among the three countries and the seven protected areas. The interaction between wildlife and people is correlated to factors like the ecology of the protected areas - vegetation/habitat type, topography, animal composition, distribution and population density, and human related issues like land use, social-economic/cultural conditions, population distribution and density on areas that border the protected areas. We, therefore, made a situational analysis of Human-Wildlife Conflict specific to each protected area based on information available in the last decade or so. In Queen Elizabeth, Uganda, elephants are the major problem, Bwindi, Uganda, it is the elephants, baboons and habituated mountain gorillas, Mgahinga, Uganda, buffaloes are the major raiders, while in Rwenzori Mountains, Uganda, it is the bush pigs and monkeys. In the Semuliki, Uganda, baboons and buffaloes are the main problem animals, in Virunga, DR Congo, it is the elephants and buffaloes, whereas in Volcanoes, Rwanda, it is the buffaloes and habituated mountain gorillas. A variety of strategies are in use around the protected areas in GVL in an attempt to physically deter wildlife from crossing over to cultivated fields and/or by increasing public tolerance for wildlife. The interventions vary from protected area to protected area depending on animal species, farming systems and strategies, measures that have been tested and accepted by local communities, and biophysical features of the area/site. The physical deterrents include: trenches dug along park boundary in Queen Elizabeth and Volcanoes targeting non-jumping animals like elephants and buffaloes; the stone wall in Mgahinga, Virunga and Volcanoes aimed at non-jumping animals, especially buffaloes, live fence using Mauritius thorn in Bwindi to prevent baboons, bushpigs, gorillas and elephants from leaving the park; red chilli depends on its odour to repel elephants in Bwindi; occupied bee hives used in Queen Elizabeth to repel elephants when the insects are disturbed or when the elephants hear their buzzing sound; scare shooting practiced in all the parks to scare elephants, buffaloes and baboons when they are already raiding crops; human guarding practiced by the local communities to chase or scare all raiding animals from their crop fields; chasing/herding the problem animals, especially the gorillas, by the community based associations in Bwindi, Volcanoes and Virunga; traps constructed using poles, ropes and grass to make enclosures to trap baboons in Bwindi; the buffer land (12km × 350m) to the south of Bwindi to prevent habituated gorillas from physically attacking people and crop-raiding; buffer crops around Bwindi where unpalatable crops to wildlife like tea are planted along the park boundary to prevent all the problem animals; electric fences in Virunga to prevent habitual elephant raiders. Strategies for raising public tolerance of wildlife damage include compensation schemes, tourism revenue sharing with communities living adjacent the parks, selected and limited use of park resources like medicinal plants and basketry fibre by local communities; and community outreach and communication which is done in conjunction with all the interventions. Cost-effectives of each intervention was determined largely from literature and perceptions of protected area staff. The buffer zone was more cost-effective when compared to other alternatives. Though the cost of acquiring land was very expensive, it has greatly reduced human-gorilla conflict. If tea is eventually planted on the land, it will provide an extra income to the local people. Trenches are financially justified but only in areas with high frequency of animal raids and large losses to the larger and more destructive mammals such as elephants because of high costs of excavation and maintenance. Human guarding is the least cost-effective intervention as only a few spots can be guarded, is labour intensive, partially effective, and involves high social costs and health risks to people and wildlife. The live fence using Mauritius thorn is highly cost-effective but is regarded as highly invasive and needs proper management. The stone wall is also highly cost-effective as it is set up using local materials and labour. However, it does not deter elephants and primates. Community-based associations for controlling problem animals (ANICO, Crop rangers, HUGO) voluntary nature makes it one of the most recommended interventions around the GVL provided the voluntary spirit can be maintained. OPPORTUNITIES • There is now a wide range of Human-Wildlife Conflict mitigation tools and techniques that has been piloted and proved to be effective in deterring majority of the problem/vermin animals; • Problem animal control is now being formalized and institutionalized as an integral part of Protected Area programs like law enforcement and tourism; • National governments are showing relative interest in Human-Wildlife Conflict by bringing in the much required resources/support; • There is a greater likelihood of improved livelihoods, food security and reduction in poverty by the local people being able to fully utilize their land after reduction in frequency of animal raids; • Reduction in crop loss and injuries/deaths due to protected animals has a great potential of improving relationships between protected area management and local communities • Community-based problem animal control associations provide a stable forum for regular dialogue and negotiation between community representatives and protected area authorities even for other issues not related to Human-Wildlife Conflict management; • There are plans or ongoing research to determine what makes habituated mountain gorillas move and spend more time out of the parks than they did only a few years ago. LESSONS LEARNED • No single intervention is a stand-alone solution to Human-Wildlife Conflict • Having an intervention in place does not entirely eliminate the animal raiding problem but could merely divert it elsewhere; • Local communities need to be involved in the process of selecting a mitigating intervention before it is implemented for them to own it; • Problem animal control being a collaborative, participatory, community endeavor can act as a bridge for protected area management to deal directly with local communities; • Three factors lead to the acceptance and effectiveness of an intervention : real reduction in crop loss and injury to local people, education and sensitization leading to improved understanding of the conflict resolution process and the real and perceived benefits to individuals and the communities in general; • Protected area managers are better equipped to define appropriate management responses by understanding the local perceptions regarding crop raiding; • Most of the interventions require a shared or collective response from those affected. Given that majority of the local farmers have small land holdings adjacent the parks, they need to cooperate in order to have a deterrent effective; • Raiding is an emotive issue around all the protected areas in GVL and people are prone to exaggerate the impacts they face either in hope of compensation or as a way of expressing their dislike for the existence of the protected areas RECOMMENDATIONS The following are suggestions and recommendations we synthesized from the information we collected: • Community members affected by problem animals (and by extension the intervention) should be clearly and urgently identified. They should be the focus of all discussions; • Revenue sharing funds should be channeled into issues that are directly linked to wildlife such as the Human-Wildlife Conflict prevention and mitigation measures as a matter of priority rather than common good community projects; • A special fund should be created for compensating human injuries and deaths. These are not so common but need to be promptly addressed; • No Human-Wildlife Conflict intervention should be implemented without full participation of the local community whom it is intended to assist; • Monitoring data collection and analysis especially recording of animal raids, where they occur, and amount of damage need to be improved; • There is need to train and motivate a few selected people from the local community based groups to do the data recording; • Scientific research need to be undertaken on changes in the vegetation inside and outside the protected areas - biomass, nutrient status, structure etc to understand why some wildlife like gorillas that previously used not to come out of the forest are doing so now; • The interventions and related activities being undertaken need to be grounded in official policy, laws, or guidelines; • Long-term incentives need to be devised to keep the voluntary spirit of the community based associations; • For any compensation scheme to be successful, the following need to be in place before the scheme is implemented: prompt and fair payment, sufficient and sustainable funds, clear rules and guidelines, including strong institutional support and site specificity to cater for differences in raiding species and culture specific issues; • There is need for a compensation scheme to be locally administered. To try to avoid the pitfalls of centralized compensation (low government funding, resources to verify rising claims, monetary inflation etc) the model should be designed to operate around community-based organizations that are partially based on community-funded financial schemes; • There is need to formulate land use policies or reform existing ones to discourage agricultural expansion, and human settlement in lands adjacent to protected areas and establish wildlife corridors between the protected areas; • Lastly, there is need to look into ways the vermin/problem can be made to instead generate revenue. Activities like sport hunting of these animals or adding value to trophies derived from these animals need to be explored; • Interventions to be implemented for each protected area are suggested.
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