Tag Archives: Rwanda

A visit from the University of Rwanda

A few days ago we received a welcome visit from our colleagues, Yves and Bizuru, from the Biology Department of the University of Rwanda. We had a chance to show them the institute here and what we could offer to their students.

This visit was a result of various past discussions and invitations. In early January we had visited the University of Rwanda in Butare and had met with various of the biology and environmental sciences staff there. They have a great campus.

The University of Rwanda has been planning and developing a new two year MSc course in Conservation and we had been discussing if they might use ITFC and Bwindi Impenetrable Forest as a base for a first year field course with the students.  After that it might even be a site where some of their second year field projects could be done. While the course is expected to appeal mainly to Rwandan students it will be open to other countries too. We were told that some Congolese were expected to enrole.

The University of Rwanda staff Yves and Bizuru (right and left) with Douglas and Miriam take a walk in Bwindi

We are keen that ITFC can play a bigger role in capacity building in the region. The chance to collaborate across international borders is attractive. This is especially true because so many of the conservation issues here are also international in nature (the protected areas which straddle international boundaries, and the mountain gorillas and other animals which happily walk across borders). Of course many of the major challenges are shared too: such as the high human densities around protected areas. What a wonderful vision if students are already able to directly grasp and question the issues from the viewpoint of a neighbouring country!

But why would Rwandans want to come to Uganda for a course like this? Indeed, though Rwanda is a small country, it has some notable forests of its own. The forests of Nyungwe, Volcanoes and Gishwati are all places of considerable interest. What ITFC has, and Rwanda does not, is an institute with physical infrastructure in the forest. We have facilities that can deal with 20-30 students … it is only 2 hours by road to the Rwanda border.

So Yves and Bizuru had, at our invitation, decided to drop in a take a look at ITFC for themselves. We showed them around, chatted about their new course and watched the l’Hoest’s and Colobus monkeys together. They seemed to enjoy it. We hope so.

There are various practical questions still to be clarified before we’ll know if the Rwandan students will come. One good piece of news is that the new MSc course has now received official approval to go ahead. Whatever the outcome we look forward to playing a role in developing the regional conservation leaders of the future and to collaborating with our cross-border colleagues.

Best wishes

Douglas

ITFC the venue for a transboundary meeting: developing stronger conservation collaboration among Congo, Rwanda and Uganda

Last week we at ITFC in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park hosted a small but historical international conservation meeting. Experts from the protected area authorities and supporting institutions in Rwanda, Congo and Uganda came to our station to sit together and evaluate and plan joint efforts in conservation management, information sharing, monitoring and research.

Members of the Technical Committee for Landscape Planning Monitoring and Research

Transboundary collaboration makes sense for the Greater Virunga Landscape (this area covers the Virungas and Bwindi and a number of other important protected areas, it includes the entire global distribution of Mountain gorillas and various other species of conservation concern). The region stretches over the international borders of Uganda, Congo and Rwanda. There are many comparable ecological and human conditions and challenges in the three countries and many of the management concerns are similar. Various animals, including mountain gorillas elephants and lions, walk back and forth across borders. Threats such as diseases and introduced plants and animals are also best viewed in a regional context. Indeed, the list of cross-border issues is a long one.  The meeting identified many topics where we can benefit from stronger regional cooperation and shared activities.

Several initiatives have sprung up over the years to improve regional communication and collaboration, including the organisation of joint patrols, attempts to standardise regulations across international borders, but also discussions to harmonise data collection for monitoring, especially of the population of mountain gorillas. Tripartite collaboration got a boost last year with a Dutch grant to set up a Transboundary Core Secretariat, (TCS) based in Rwanda. The TCS has initiated the forming of several committees and ITFC is part of the Technical Committee for Research and Monitoring.

We spent 2 days comparing notes on various threats in the region and efforts to monitor them in the different protected areas. Together we identified gaps in information and prioritised a number of areas where conservation can benefit from strengthening cross border collaborations. In the process we got to know each other better.

We took the whole group for a walk the first afternoon and were lucky enough to see not only several common monkey species but also a pair of Crowned eagles.  They were wheeling high over the forest.  That’s the first time I’ve seen them in a year … I had been looking for them and I was concerned that they had disappeared from Bwindi.  Crowned eagles are huge majestic birds with impressive yellow talons. They prey on monkeys and other mammals. To me these birds, that pass back and forth over the borders so easily, were a good omen.

Some of the participants have a look around ITFC.

The committee still has a lot of work to do, but we got a positive feeling from the sense of collaboration and shared purpose in this meeting. We hope ITFC will continue to play a key role in the future. Cross border work can suffer from politics and bureaucracy but the ITFC meeting shows a shared ability to work as colleagues and friends.

Let me know what you think

Best wishes

Douglas