Given the high human population density and the demand for agricultural land in the Albertine Rift, natural habitat, particularly tropical forest, is becoming fragmented and isolated. The identification of six core landscapes in the strategic framework plan for the Albertine Rift aimed to make people in the development and conservation community think at a landscape rather than site scale. Fragmentation is probably greatest in the Murchison-Semliki Landscape in western Uganda where riverine and gallery forest has been converted to agriculture at a very fast pace over the past 15 years since 1996 with over 450 km2 of forest being lost during this period. Part of the causes of this forest conversion is due to large increases in numbers of people due to in-migration and settlement of refugees from DRC, and part is due to the increased promotion of farming of cash crops such as tobacco, sugar, tea and cocoa in the region.
WCS has been working with other partners to assess the existing connectivity in the Murchison-Semliki Landscape and to establish conservation programs to conserve the critical corridor forests. WCS led the process of corridor identification using the following process:
1. Identifying a suite of species that require corridors linking the main blocks of forest in the landscape in order to maintain viable populations. These species included chimpanzees, goldencats and jackals, forest raptors, and understorey birds such as Pittas for forested corridors and lion, buffalo and martial eagle for savanna corridors.
2. Model least cost paths for each of the species given estimates of amounts of natural habitat needed to disperse and estimates of the width of gaps they would cross if natural habitat was not present.
3. Combine the corridors identified for each of the species groups to identify the suite of corridors that need to be conserved.
This analysis identified 27 corridor forests in this landscape. We have since been looking at ways of financing the conservation of these corridor forests, particularly using REDD+ financing as well as working with the private sector such as banks which have tree planting projects as well as companies interested in helping establish shade crops of cocoa or coffee around the corridor forests to act as a buffer. Shade crops could potentially receive a premium price if the conservation aspects of the farming could be marketed.
WCS has also been assessing the importance of corridors in the Greater Virunga Landscape and has developed a conservation plan for the corridors around the Queen Elizabeth National Park. This identified critical sites which need to be conserved and in particular sites where land could be purchased to strengthen existing but very narrow corridors. The corridors linking Kyambura Wildlife Reserve to Kasyoha-Kitomi Forest Reserve and the narrow corridor linking the Kasenyi sector of Queen Elizabeth Park to the north on the western side of lake George are two critical corridors that need support. Similarly the corridor linking Queen Elizabeth Park to Virunga Park north of Lake Edward is crucial for landscape species such as elephants and lion and will be needed if the numbers in north Virunga Park are to rebuild once the park is stabilized. Much of the transboundary conservation we support aims to conserve linkages between protected areas in this landscape, some through narrow corridors.
In the Maiko-Itombwe Landscape WCS has been promoting connectivity in a zoning process of the Itombwe Reserve, ensuring that landscape species are well represented and have corridors to move between core protected areas in the reserve. We have also been involved in identifying key populations of Grauer’s gorillas in the landscape and the connectivity that would be required to ensure these populations remain linked.
In the design of the Ngamikka National park in the Marungu-Kabogo Landscape we have been ensuring that the proposed park connected to the Luama Hunting Reserve through several corridors and that the park conserves forest down to the lake shore on Tanganyika as well as conserve parts of the lake.