A brief history of IGCP

Earlier conservation efforts

  • 1925 Gorilla Sanctuary (precursor of Virunga National Park and Africa’s first national park) created by royal decree of King Albert of Belgium, after Carl Akeley urges Belgian colonial government in the Congo to intervene on behalf of mountain gorillas.
  • 1959-60 George Schaller conducts the first thorough investigative study of gorillas.
  • 1966 Dian Fossey begins studying gorillas in the Virungas and dedicates almost 18 years of her life to their conservation.
  • 1979 Conservation organizations begin collaborating to protect the remaining mountain gorilla populations. The Mountain Gorilla Project, as it has become known, focuses on conservation in Rwanda. It introduces anti-poaching measures and sets up an education programme to help change local attitudes towards gorillas and forest conservation.

Evolution of the programme

In 1991, the Mountain Gorilla Project evolves naturally into the International Gorilla Conservation Programme (IGCP). A more formal coalition of three conservation organizations – African Wildlife Foundation (AWF), Fauna & Flora International (FFI) and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) – the programme expands its activities to cover the entire mountain gorilla range in Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

IGCP does not work alone. The programme owes much of its success to the contributions of its many partners, particularly the protected area authorities in each of the range states. The achievements listed below are those in which IGCP has played a leading role:

A decade of achievement (1991-2000)

IGCP support for park staff in DRC enables patrols and gorilla monitoring to continue uninterrupted despite Virunga National Park being the scene of a prolonged conflict, including a refugee crisis and intense rebel and military activity, after refugees flee Rwanda in 1994.

After the fall of President Mobutu Sese Seko in 1996, IGCP develops close links with the authorities in eastern DRC and is acknowledged as a key contributor to regional recovery. Strong support for the programme from both the Rassemblement Congolais pour la Démocratie (RCD), and the Kinshasa-based government of Joseph Kabila, enables IGCP to continue working effectively throughout the crisis.

IGCP persuades humanitarian and relief organizations to consider environmental issues and elicits their support for rehabilitation of the national park. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees subsequently invites IGCP to develop its Environmental Guidelines and train technical staff in environmental management during refugee operations (see Influencing policy).

Development of a framework for regional co-operation paves the way for effective transboundary collaborative management of the Virungas and Bwindi, and potentially the creation of a Transfrontier Protected Area Network for the region (see Regional collaboration).

Gorilla tourism is established in Uganda and harmonized with programmes in Rwanda and DRC to encourage a regional approach. The programme is linked to a benefit sharing scheme, including the sharing of tourism revenue and other local initiatives, to ensure that nearby communities benefit directly (see Improving livelihoods).

IGCP works with the respective park authorities to re-establish operations, rebuild infrastructure and implement recovery plans following war and genocide in Rwanda (1994), war in DRC (1996) and the 1999 attack on Uganda’s Buhoma community campground (see Capacity building).

Programme support helps to prevent the killing of gorillas in Bwindi and the Virungas during more than 10 years of war and conflict. Although the death toll (18 confirmed cases) appears high, it is relatively low compared to the losses suffered by other species in unpatrolled areas outside the range of the mountain gorillas (see Monitoring).

Recent milestones (2000 to date)

  • 2000 – Following discussions between IGCP and senior officials, proposals to degazette 700 hectares of Volcano National Park for resettlement purposes are shelved and the Government of Rwanda formally declares all its parks inviolable.
  • 2001 – UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Danger project, funded by UN Foundation, developed by a group of conservation organizations including the IGCP coalition, working in eastern DRC.
  • 2001 – Park authorities from the three countries, including both sides of the political divide between western and eastern DRC, sign Tripartite Declaration expressing intention to create a full transfrontier protected area, the Virunga-Bwindi Transfrontier Park. IGCP is formally designated as facilitator for this process.
  • 2001 – Data from IGCP monitoring activities show increase in gorilla numbers over 10 year period from 320 individuals to over 355 individuals in the Virunga volcanoes. Preliminary data from a census in Bwindi, carried out with numerous partners, also reveals 7% increase.
  • 2002 – Four successive poaching attempts result in the killing of at least six adult gorillas and capture of three babies. Regional meeting held to develop mechanisms and tools to deal with gorilla poaching. All three protected area authorities work with national authorities, as well as Interpol and the Lusaka Task Force, to strengthen communication and regional collaboration.
  • 2003 – Mountain gorilla census in the Virunga Massif. The national park authorities of Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) announce that a recent census of the Virunga Volcanoes mountain gorilla population has shown a significant increase in population size. The results of the census show that there are now a total of 380 gorillas in 30 social groups. Due to insecurity in the area, no complete census had been carried out since 1989, when the population was estimated at 324 individuals. The figure represents a 17% increase in the population since then. Along with the 320 mountain gorillas in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda, this brings the total world population to 700 individuals.
  • 2003 – Nkuringo land purchase. An additional 4.2.km2 of land is purchased adjacent to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. The land is purchased as part of the solution to resolve human gorilla conflicts in the area caused by gorillas ranging outside the park. Several groups of mountain gorillas are known to range outside the park in this area including a group of gorillas habituated for tourism. The purchase of land was a lengthy process involving local landowners, local government, Uganda Wildlife Authority and the International Gorilla Conservation Programme (IGCP). This is a major achievement in an area where opportunities to acquire additional resources for conservation are rare. The completion of this project is a testament to all the stakeholders involved of their commitment to conservation and development, and highlights the increasing importance that local communities and local governments are placing on the scarce remnants of afro-montane habitat.
  • 2004 – Orphaned Mountain Gorilla Confiscated from Poachers by Rwandan Authorities. A young mountain gorilla is confiscated from poachers by Rwandan authorities, during an undercover operation. The young gorilla, estimated to be between 3 and 4 years of age, appears to be in relatively good physical health, though the odds of survival are unfavorable. Now under the care of the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Program (MGVP) in Kinigi, Rwanda, the infant gorilla is being fed gorilla foods gathered daily by local trackers.
  • 2004 – Twin gorillas born in Susa group, PNV: Twin birth is a rare event in mountain gorillas and survival for twins is very limited for reasons that are still to be documented by primatologists. In Susa group (Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda) a female had twins (male and female) in May 2004 and could be seen struggling to take care and feed both of them. The Susa group members have however been very helpful since the beginning, helping the mother care and transport the twins. During the 2005 gorilla naming ceremony, the male was called Byishimo meaning “joy” and the female Impano, meaning “gift.”
  • 2005 – Signing of the Transboundary ministerial declaration. An inter-ministerial meeting is called in Goma on 14th and 15th December 2005 where the 3 ministers in charge of the Protected Areas appreciated the existing regional collaboration efforts and committed their support. A declaration is signed recognizing “the Central Albertine Rift Transfrontier protected area network as a transboundary ecosystem shared by the 3 countries, and efforts are committed to initiate the development of a collaborative protocol amongst the three governments which will ensure formal agreement of management of this transboundary protected area network. They also accepted to lobby their respective governments and other key players to make a financial commitment to enable implementation of the transboundary strategic plan.
  • 2006 – MoU for “Transboundary Gorilla Groups.” From November 2004, two habituated tourism gorilla groups, one from PNVi/DRC (Kwitonda group) and one from MGNP/Uganda (Nyakagezi group) had moved from their usual ranges to PNV/Rwanda. IGCP is requested and agrees to facilitate the development of a MoU/agreement detailing implementation mechanisms for the visit and monitoring of these groups currently named “transboundary gorilla groups.” A first draft of the MoU is developed and discussed and sent to different institutions for comments in December 2005. The MoU on the collaborative monitoring of and sharing revenues from transfrontier tourism gorilla groups is signed by the three park authorities in May 2006.
  • 2006 – Mountain gorilla census in the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. A census is carried out between April and June 2006 to determine the total population, size and structure of the gorillas. The 5 habituated groups in Bwindi contain a total of 75 individuals; 25 unhabituated groups comprise 227 individuals along with 11 lone silverbacks at the time of the census, rounding the total to 340 individuals; demonstrating an increase since the 2002 census, which had yielded a total of 320 individuals.
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