Our work

Conservation is all about people

One of the principal characteristics of the programme is that it is regional, basing its activities in the afromontane forest habitat that lies across the shared borders of Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). IGCP achieves maximum impact by working in close partnership with the park staff of all three countries (see Range states). Building capacity and encouraging regional collaboration helps the park authorities to improve their individual and collective effectiveness.

A vital part of these activities is to develop more sophisticated monitoring techniques throughout the protected area shared by the three countries. Socio-economic development and conservation are inextricably linked. IGCP has teamed up with CARE International to implement the Enterprise, Environment, and Equity in the Virunga Landscape of the Great Lakes Project. By improving livelihoods, encouraging sustainable use of resources and tackling other local issues via a range of community initiatives, the programme aims to influence attitudes to conservation at all levels and reduce the threats facing the parks, forests and wildlife.

At the same time, IGCP works with key decision-makers with a view to influencing policy and ensuring that each country benefits from conservation at local and national level. The 10% increase in the mountain gorilla population within ten years of the programme’s inception demonstrates the efficacy of IGCP’s holistic approach to conservation.

what the IGCP does

— Discover more about what we do below

building capacity

Building capacity

IGCP’s priority has always been to build and enhance the professional capacity of the institutions with which it works, to help them improve the effectiveness of their conservation and park management. This involves assisting the park management authorities with a range of activities, from the training of park staff to the restructuring of the institutions responsible for protected areas.

Within this framework, IGCP has helped to develop stronger tools for monitoring and planning of protection and management activities. Helping the park authorities to function effectively against a backdrop of social, political and economic turmoil is a crucial facet of this work.


During the war in DRC, the Kinshasa-based government has been unable to provide financial support to the parks under rebel-held control in eastern DRC. While closed to tourists, the parks can generate no income. The park authorities (ICCN) would currently be unable to operate without basic IGCP support for field-based staff.

Requested by the Rwandan park authorities (ORTPN) to help rebuild operations in the aftermath of war and genocide, IGCP helped to develop Action Plans for all the parks, facilitate a restructuring of the ORTPN headquarters and elicit support from partners.

Following the habituation of gorilla groups for tourism, staff from the Uganda Wildlife Authority have been trained and equipped to guide, interpret and manage gorilla tourism. Park staff from all three range states have benefited from various joint training programmes.

IGCP raised funds to purchase additional land bordering Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, thereby extending gorilla habitat and enabling the Uganda Wildlife Authority to create a buffer zone in areas vulnerable to human encroachment and illegal activities. The land will also enable local communities to develop tourism-related enterprise and generate financial benefits for themselves.

regional collaboration

Regional collaboration

Gorillas do not recognize international boundaries. They move freely around the afromontane forest habitat that straddles the shared borders of Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Thus it is imperative to co-ordinate conservation efforts throughout this contiguous block of forest.

The programme places particular emphasis on regional collaboration at all levels, from the forest in the park to the governments in the three countries, providing a framework for more effective communication and sharing of resources.

IGCP conducts a range of regional activities. These include:

ecological monitoring and surveillance; tourism development; joint training, communication and sharing of experiences; planning; community initiatives and management planning.

Regional meetings enable joint activities to be discussed, planned and evaluated and allow new ideas to be explored. They also provide a vital communication link between the four parks and the three protected area authorities. Monitoring tools such as a shared database and a standardized approach to data collection have considerably enhanced the effectiveness of conservation. IGCP also works with key decision makers such as military commanders, government and administrative authorities to secure joint agreements that ensure a seamless approach to conservation throughout the gorillas’ range.


IGCP worked with the authorities in all three of the range states to develop a plan for the creation of a Transfrontier Protected Area (TFPA). The three authorities subsequently presented a joint paper at a 1996 Peace Parks conference, outlining the potential for a collaboratively managed TFPA. This and subsequent work in Italy in 1999, which also involved the IUCN, led to all three protected area authorities signing a Tripartite Agreement in 2001.

A 10 year transboundary strategic plan has also been agreed, to allow the park authorities of the three countries to work together in managing the diverse ecosystems that lie across the borders. IGCP acted as a facilitator for the planning process.

The conservation authorities have been collaborating since IGCP’s creation in 1991, but this has now been formalised through the strategic plan and a Memorandum of Understanding between them. This is based on the recognition that the threats to the protected areas, conservation and development in the region will be much more effectively dealt with by an overall strategy that all three implement together. Initiatives such as law enforcement, education, and development will not only become more cost effective by pooling resources and removing duplication of expense, but will also be further strengthened by avoiding any potential conflicting strategies.

Harmonization of tourism rules and regulations throughout the range states is paving the way for the establishment of a regional tourism programme.

IGCP has helped to organize joint patrols and training programmes involving staff from two or more countries and developed a ranger-based monitoring programme to ensure effective management of the shared ecosystem.



Monitoring provides IGCP and its partners with the answers to two fundamental questions: firstly, what are the threats to the parks and its wildlife, and secondly, how effective are current management, protection and conservation activities?

Current threats are determined by means of ranger-based monitoring, which provides data on illegal human activities inside the park, and socio-economic monitoring, which sheds light on the changing human context, the demand for natural resources and the latest pressures on the park. With regard to operational effectiveness, ranger-based monitoring helps to determine the status of gorillas, other wildlife and the forest itself, while law-enforcement monitoring with the park staff reveals the effectiveness of anti-poaching activities.

In addition, IGCP is helping park staff to monitor the effectiveness of their own performance across a broad spectrum of activities. Remote sensing work in collaboration with the European Space Agency, UNESCO, WWF and WCS is revealing longer-term changes in habitat structure and human landscape within which the gorillas and the forest exist. This allows IGCP to evaluate the long-term effectiveness of conservation work.

Information gathered by the protected area authorities in the respective countries is analyzed regionally. Tools such as a shared database and a harmonized protocol for data collection encourage transboundary collaboration, resulting in a unified regional approach to conservation and efficient use of resources.

Ranger-based monitoring (RBM) is a cornerstone of IGCP’s regional programme. Historically, limited resources and a lack of data had undermined the effectiveness of park controls. Designed and started by IGCP and the park authorities in the Democratic Republic of Congo, RBM is a simple but effective conservation tool for field staff, allowing rangers on patrol to collect basic information, which in turn helps to inform further activities and management decisions in all four parks. The three protected area authorities have been key players in developing the RBM programme, which has now been implemented in all three countries and provides the basis for managing the shared habitat in a collaborative manner.

RBM is an indispensable regional data collection tool, used by all park managers. Though not high-tech, when combined with Global Positioning Systems it allows park staff to overlay human use of the forest with gorilla movements, the presence of food plants, movements of elephants and areas being utilized by militia groups, poachers and those engaged in other illegal activities. RBM illustrates the enormous value of daily patrols, not only for anti-poaching and law enforcement purposes, but also to increase understanding of what is happening in the forest.

The availability of key information – gorilla health, where to send anti-poaching patrols, where the most vulnerable wildlife is feeding, what park resources people are illegally extracting etc. – ensures that park staff are responding to the real conservation priorities. IGCP is developing increasingly detailed reference materials for the four parks, including identification cards, photographs and noseprints for every individual gorilla (see Mountain gorillas).

RBM has continued uninterrupted throughout the recent conflict and is one of the main reasons why gorillas have enjoyed such effective protection. Its success has led other parks and conservation agencies to ask IGCP for help in setting up ranger-based monitoring at new sites elsewhere in Africa.

Socio-economic monitoring

Data gathering outside park boundaries includes socio-economic studies that enable IGCP to form a picture of the human situation around the protected areas. Information gleaned provides the basis for developing activities that address the needs of the population as well as specific threats to the forest and its wildlife. For example, a recent socio-economic study of the Virunga-Bwindi region, designed and implemented by IGCP and the Wildlife Conservation Society  and supported by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, revealed differences in the communities surrounding the forest blocks (report PDF available for download). In response, IGCP will refine its enterprise programme and protection activities to ensure that the most pressing issues are tackled first.

An economic valuation and opportunity-cost analysis of the Central Albertine Rift was conducted in 2002, with support from The Howard G. Buffett Foundation, in order to determine the current and potential value of the forests and existing/potential land uses.

The report ‘Economic Valuation of the Central Albertine Rift’ is available to download on this page.

Remote sensing

The programme also uses satellite technology to monitor broader landscape changes over time and illustrate the impact of human activities, including agriculture or the influx of refugees, or events such as the volcanic eruption near Goma.

For example, the European Space Agency is working with IGCP to survey the vegetation cover of gorilla habitat in the Great Lakes region using remote sensing technology. The Survey of Gorilla Habitats (SOGHA) project and the subsequent BEGo (Build Environment for Gorillas) project are providing IGCP with refined data for field, topographic and vegetation maps of the Virungas and Bwindi and a land use map that reveals changes in vegetation over a ten-year period.


The growing portfolio of field, topographic and vegetation maps at the disposal of the programme is a vital conservation resource.

improving livelihoods

Improving livelihoods

The success of mountain gorilla conservation hinges above all on reconciling the conflicting needs of endangered wildlife and people who are hanging on to life by their fingertips.

Local communities and their basic survival strategies pose the greatest threats to wildlife areas, yet these same people are also the ones on whom species and habitat protection ultimately depend. The only way to maintain gorilla habitat is to develop alternative economic activities that allow people to meet their daily needs.

The people living near the forested slopes of the Virunga Volcanoes and the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest are generally subsistence farmers, living below the poverty line and wholly dependent on agriculture. IGCP has worked with communities around the parks to develop enterprise compatible with conservation objectives and helped them to devise other viable and sustainable ways of earning a living. The development of enterprise linked to tourism is helping to bring in alternative revenue for the community and support forest conservation. IGCP is also seeking to broaden the scope of enterprise development, by investigating other means by which communities can reduce their dependence on dwindling forest resources.

Benefit sharing

IGCP worked with the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) to develop a revenue sharing programme and policy and establish mechanisms for its application around Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park. Managed by committees including local community representatives and UWA officials, the scheme is used to fund projects for the benefit of communities living alongside gorilla habitat. Training has been provided in ecotourism and tourist-based enterprise development in conjunction with the Uganda Community Tourism Association.

From 2005 the revenue sharing programme has also been operational in Rwanda. The overall goal of the programme is “To ensure sustainable conservation of the National Parks with the participation of the neighbouring communities by contributing to the improvement of their living conditions”.

Three objectives have been defined:

  1. Conservation impact objectives: to reduce illegal activities; to ensure sustainable conservation; and to increase community responsibility for conservation
  2. Livelihoods impact objectives: to improve livelihoods by contributing to poverty reduction; to compensate for loss of access and/or crop damage; to provide alternatives to park resources; and to encourage community based tourism
  3. Relationship impact objectives (between park and population): to build trust; to increase ownership; to reduce conflicts; to increase participation in conservation; and to empower communities.

The Revenue Sharing Policy in Rwanda stipulates that 5% of the total annual tourism revenue of ORTPN is to be devoted to supporting community projects. The total amount is divided among the three parks in Rwanda: 40% (Parc National des Volcans), 30% (Parc National Nyungwe) and 30% (Parc National Akagera). The benefit sharing money is spent on community projects, priorities include: primary schools, water tanks and health centers.

Community Lodges

IGCP is working with the park authorities, the private sector and the local communities in Uganda and Rwanda to establish community lodges beside the parks. These lodges will provide an important source of income for thousands of people living adjacent to the protected areas. The communities involved in the project are also undertaking other income generating activities including community walks centered on socio-economic activities of the people and cultural centers with traditional music, dance and drama. A feasibility study is being done to look at establishing a similar project in DRC.

Sustainable alternatives

IGCP is working with Forum des Apicultuers des Volcans (FAV) to promote apiculture around PNV (Rwanda) and Union des Apiculteurs du Secteur Mikeno et Nyamulagira (UDASEMINYA) in PNVi (DRC) and the Bwindi Beekeepers Development Association (BBDA) around Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (Uganda). Prior to IGCP’s intervention, beekeeping was an activity for the old people done basically for honey production in a crude manner both from the forest habitat of the gorilla and within the community area. Following the intervention of IGCP, beekeepers around the Virunga Massif have relocated their hives just outside park boundaries, in order to avoid entering the forest illegally to harvest honey. In return, IGCP recruited a technical consultant to analyze the hives and assess beekeeping techniques.

The recommendations have led to the introduction of training in modern apicultural methods and the purchase of modern beehives. Honey is not only produced hygienically and marketed professionally but also many bi-products have been added to the production line including candles, bees wax, propolis, and mead. Other beekeepers’ associations have since begun to participate in similar training programmes, designed to improve collection, preparation and marketing techniques and to maximize income from by-products such as candles.

Basic survival

Enterprise development in the Democratic Republic of Congo is severely constrained by the security situation. Many people abandon homes and crops after their villages are attacked and are then unable to survive without recourse to park resources for food. In the absence of longer-term solutions, IGCP has solicited donations from the World Food Programme, in order to minimize poaching and illegal harvesting.

community initiatives

Community initiatives

Gaining support for conservation is not simply a question of ensuring that local communities derive a financial benefit from conservation activities. It also involves forging and strengthening links with local populations through broader initiatives that address issues such as public health, environmental education and human-wildlife conflict resolution. IGCP works with the park authorities in Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to develop a more inclusive approach to conservation and park management.

Human-wildlife conflict

In all three countries, crop raiding by buffalo, elephant and, more rarely, gorillas is increasing. One such incident in Rwanda led to an elephant being shot dead by police. 

To address the specific issue of gorillas leaving the parks and crop raiding, IGCP has developed the human-gorilla conflict resolution (HUGO) programme, recruiting people from the villages to function as “quick response” teams and herd gorillas back into the forest.

The programme, operating around BINP, is a collaborative voluntary programme of Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), the Local governments, the affected forest edge communities and IGCP that identifies the proximate and ultimate causes of the conflict between human beings and gorillas in the areas where gorillas come out of the park, conducts research on methodologies for land-use changes and develops appropriate and effective responses to incidents of the conflict. 

Prevention of crop raiding is achieved through a variety of means.

In DRC and Rwanda, for example, with support from IGCP, park staff and local communities have been building a dry stone wall (one meter high and one meter thick) around the park perimeter. Building the wall has been a positive step toward reducing conflict between the park and the community as buffalo no longer raid crops and people are able to cultivate field closer to park boundary; thus increased crop production and increasing income. The record harvest in areas already protected by the new wall has encouraged local communities to extend the project. Construction of the buffalo wall around PNV began in October 2002, and to date 76.32km has been built, there remains only 800m to complete the wall plus fencing of 29 gullies that requires special techniques to close them. In MGNP the buffalo wall was initiated by Berggorilla & Regenwald Direkthilfe (BRD) in 1993/94 using plants (Erythrina abyssinica and Solanum spp) as a deterrent for the buffalo raiding crops. Where this intervention could not be applied a stone wall was constructed instead.

In 1995, CARE Uganda supported the extension of the wall as assistance to the Uganda Wildlife Authority. Then in 2004/05, IGCP supported building the wall along the Uganda DRC border. The wall is currently almost complete, there is only a short section remaining toward the border with Rwanda. Around Mikeno sector (PNVi) construction of the wall began in 2002, the wall currently extends for 52km, leaving only 400m which will be completed by mid 2007. The next step for the wall around Mikeno sector is to extend the height from 1m to 1.5 m.

Environmental education

As part of its conservation education programme in Rwanda, IGCP has helped the park authorities to identify community members who act as local ‘ambassadors’ or Animateurs de la Conservation (ANICOs), helping local conservation organizations to spread the conservation message throughout the communes bordering the park. ANICOs have received training on the importance of the environment, the ecological value of the forest and its links to human livelihoods.

Local schools have expressed interest in forging closer links with the national park and sought help in developing teaching materials. In the DRC, IGCP works very closely with the WWF Programme Environnementale des Virunga (PEVi), to ensure a strong and coordinated approach.

Public health

In Uganda, IGCP is helping to develop a community tourism venture at Buhoma. The community campground is located downstream from a series of lodges, creating the risk of water contamination. The programme has therefore been working with the Buhoma community and developed a water gravity scheme that will guarantee the availability of clean water. Health monitoring also helps to minimize the risk of transmitting diseases to the gorilla groups.

Through its Public Health & Conservation project, IGCP has provided training for the local communities to help them understand the links between disease, waste management and conservation (see Threats).

In the Bwindi Mgahinga Conservation Area, IGCP is also collaborating with Conservation Through Public Health. The mission of CTPH is “to promote conservation and public health by improving primary health care to people and animals in and around protected areas in Africa”.

Promoting participation

In 2002 a Community Conservation Workshop, facilitated by the PEVi WWF project and supported by IGCP, was held in DRC. It developed a strategy and identified key activities for local community integration in park management. Participants included representatives from park headquarters, government officials, NGO partners and members of local communities from around all five World Heritage Sites in eastern DRC.

In the five Districts around round Parc National des Volcans, IGCP has been working with the local government and communities to develop a community based natural resource management (CBNRM) plan that will provide a road map for integrating conservation in the community activities and supporting conservation enterprises. The CBNRM plan seeks 1) to minimise threats on natural resources and to guarantee the long-term integrity of the Parc National des Volcans, 2) to optimise the use of natural resources, 3) to resolve conflicts over natural resources, and 4) to elaborate an institutional framework to manage natural resources.

The overall objective is to guarantee the sustainable future of the human population and its natural environment.

influencing policy

Influencing policy

IGCP works with the many different stakeholders who are able to influence the survival of the mountain gorillas and their habitat. These include local farmers, park and military authorities, local and regional governments and environmental experts, all of whose activities have an effect on the environment and the natural resources in that landscape.

IGCP regularly meets with representatives from such groups to explain how the national park forests are vital to the people of region, not only in terms of generating tourist dollars, but also in maintaining biodiversity, helping to prevent erosion and ensuring dependable water supplies. Development, humanitarian and relief agencies also affect natural resources, people and the forests. In order to promote better integration of conservation, relief and development activities, IGCP is highlighting the mutual benefits of increased collaboration.

In October 2001, the park authorities from the three countries, including both sides of the political divide between western and eastern DRC, met and signed a declaration expressing their intention to create a full transfrontier protected area, the Virunga-Bwindi Transfrontier Park. IGCP was formally designated as facilitator for this process (see Regional collaboration).
Thanks to the concerted efforts of IGCP at field and political levels, together with other conservation partners on the ground, people are increasingly recognizing the importance of conserving gorillas and their forest habitat.

Political persuasiveness

Rwanda, the most densely populated country in Africa (see Range states), is still coping with tens of thousands of ‘Internally Displaced’ citizens after the war. In early 2000, the government was drawing up plans to resettle up to 500 families inside the Volcano National Park, in an area with critical food sources for mountain gorillas.

IGCP and other conservation organizations met with the government and explained how this action would affect biodiversity, water supply and tourism, emphasizing both the economic and ecological value of the forest. Armed with this knowledge, the government reconsidered its decision. It has since strengthened its resolve to protect the forest and its wildlife, making it clear that it will not jeopardize the survival of the gorillas.

Military manoeuvres

Military commanders operating in the region have worked closely with IGCP and the parks to help ensure the protection and conservation of mountain gorillas.
In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the Mwaro corridor connecting the two sub-sectors of the Virunga National Park was being deforested for security reasons. A road bisecting this narrow corridor was due to be widened by 20 metres to prevent ambushes by armed militias. Such action would have inhibited the movement of elephants and buffalo, causing them to leave the park elsewhere and damage farmers’ crops. IGCP worked with the military and government authorities to halt the deforestation and the cleared area has since been replanted and allowed to regenerate, leading to a reduction in crop raiding.

In 2000, the Rwandan military planned to construct a road crossing into the DRC through both the Volcano National Park and the Virunga National Park, in order to reach militia groups who were launching raids from across the border. IGCP and other conservation organizations lobbied the government, pointing out that the road would allow poachers and illegal loggers to penetrate deep into the forest in search of bushmeat and timber. Consequently, the road project was halted and the government and military revised their plans.

Refugees and resources

In 1994, 750,000 people fled Rwanda after the genocide, heading to the DRC. Thousands travelled through the Virungas. Many stayed in the parks for weeks, poaching and felling trees for food, shelter and fuel. The refugee camps remained in the DRC for two and a half years, on the very edge of the Virunga National Park.

These were the largest refugee camps the world has ever seen.

Although UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees) and other humanitarian agencies provided food and firewood, this enormous population supplemented its rations with resources poached from the park. The refugee crisis led to more than 75 km2 of park being completely deforested and innumerable animals, including mountain gorillas, being poached. IGCP worked with the UNHCR and other humanitarian agencies to ensure that park resources were not used for the refugees, helped the authorities to strengthen protection of the park, and made everyone aware of the importance of the park and its wildlife.
Several meetings were held with top political authorities in the DRC, to ensure their support for conservation of the park.
IGCP has consistently argued that humanitarian and relief work in the region should include environmental support. As a result, it has persuaded organizations such as UNHCR, World Food Program and Médecins Sans Frontières to support the park authorities, particularly in the Southern Sector of the Virunga National Park.

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