Many of the landscapes in the Albertine Rift are made up of several protected areas which are contiguous. Two of the landscapes, the Greater Virunga and Congo-Nile Divide straddle international borders also. WCS, with its partners, has been encouraging the management of these larger landscapes which involves improving coordination and planning between the various protected areas or countries. In the case of landscapes that straddle the international borders an increased level of complexity is added because of the need to coordinate activities between different government agencies and, in the case of the Greater Virunga Landscape, working in different languages.
WCS supports transboundary collaboration in both landscapes, the only NGO to do so.
Greater Virunga Landscape
International Gorilla Conservation Programme (IGCP) started a process of transboundary collaboration in 1991 between Uganda, Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) for the Virunga Volcanoes and Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, where mountain gorillas are found. These areas form 5% of the Greater Virunga Landscape but for many years only this part of the landscape was involved in transboundary collaboration despite proposals having been made since the late 1980s that it take place across the whole landscape. In 2003 the WCS Albertine Rift Program decided to expand the collaboration to the rest of the landscape, to ensure coordination and collaboration between DRC and Uganda for the Virunga, Queen Elizabeth, Rwenzori Mountains and Semuliki National Parks. Partnering with ICCN and UWA (the parks authorities in the two countries) we developed a program that brings together the wardens of the parks (or park sectors) together to discuss transborder issues every 4 months and each year we tackle a specific issue with a wider group of stakeholders which have included the police, military, customs, immigration, forest departments/authorities, universities, other NGO partners, local government etc. These stakeholder meetings aim to educate people about issues in the landscape or to try and develop solutions to problems that exist for conservation. Subjects that have been tackled include:
1. Assessing landscape species in the landscape and threats to their long term viability
2. Assessing the laws of DRC and Uganda pertaining to wildlife and improving law enforcement in the region
3. Improving knowledge of customs and immigration officials about the wildlife trade and trade in wildlife products
4. Tackling issues over transboundary fisheries management on Lake Edward
5. Regional monitoring and training in ranger-based monitoring
6. Tackling the timber trade from DRC to Uganda
7. Building the capacity of UWA and ICCN staff to be able to manage oil development in and around the Greater Virunga Landscape
These meetings have been very effective at engaging other stakeholders that the protected area authorities need to work with and have led to improved relations and better coordination between them as a result.
WCS also supports coordinated patrols that operate along the international borders and provides equipment for these patrols. Park guards cannot cross the international border for legal reasons and therefore what used to happen was that poachers when being pursued would head for the border because they knew they couldn’t be followed once they had crossed it. The incidences of poaching have significantly dropped in the border areas since we started supporting regular coordinated patrols at the border whereby rangers patrol the boundary at the same time on both sides of the border.
Over the period WCS has been supporting transboundary collaboration in the Greater Virunga Landscape agreements between the three governments have been developed over the transboundary collaboration process and a transboundary action plan was developed by the three protected area authorities. A core secretariat was established for the Greater Virunga Landscape, the Greater Virunga Transboundary Core Secretariat (GVTC), which now coordinates the transboundary activities between the countries. WCS is in the process of handing over responsibility of coordination activities in the north of the landscape to the GVTC and will remain engaged primarily in a technical capacity.
Building on the success of the transboundary collaboration in the Greater Virunga Landscape WCS initiated a similar process of collaboration between Rwanda and Burundi in the Congo-Nile Divide Landscape. This programme, which is spearheaded by our Rwanda country program, has developed a MOU between the protected area authorities RDB and INECN in Rwanda and Burundi respectively. This led on to the development of a transboundary landscape plan and finally agreements between the two governments to collaborate in the management of this landscape.
As part of the transboundary collaboration WCS has helped rehabilitate infrastructure in the Kibira National Park in Burundi following the civil war and destruction of patrol posts and park buildings there. We have also helped INECN develop a management plan for Kibira National Park and have been supporting aspects of the implementation of this plan.
Meetings between the wardens of both parks are not held as regularly because there are fewer staff that need to be involved. Instead they tend to coordinate between each other and meet when there is a specific transboundary problem to resolve or to participate in joint training programme.