We’d heard that its possible, reforming poachers and giving them viable alternatives, however, I was dubious until I met Moses and his group.
“As you drive to Buhoma Gate we are on the way in Rugando village.”
Well, Rugando isn’t on our GPS or map. So we drive to our camp outside Bwindi Impenetrable National Forest. A couple of days later after a few back and forth messages and a bit more information we try again, driving north and watching the kilometers. At the 6k mark we slow way down. Somebody will surely spot us. A motorbike pulls up beside us. The young man riding gestures that we’ve gone too far and must turn around.
We have no idea the surprise we are in for…
How one man is saving wildlife by reforming poachers in Uganda.
Moses Arineitwe greets us warmly. He is a slight built man with a huge smile. He introduces us to his partner Joseph, then proudly shows us around the little two room office of their organization, Nyamirambi-Rugando Conservation and Development Ltd. (Pictured in image above)
A hand written poster stating their projects is the center piece. Obviously Moses is about a much broader wildlife conservation work than reforming poachers. However, that is for another day.
Moses is a former ranger who wanted to attack the sad poaching issue in his area north of the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in a different way. This amazing rainforest is one of “the most biologically diverse areas on earth” (Wikipedia) and one of the mountain gorilla’s last strong holds. It is also “known as a birding paradise since it harbors over half of the bird species found in Africa” (BwindiForestNationalPark.com.)
Moses came up with a plan and he and Joseph started their small community based organization to raise awareness to save the wildlife and their habitat in their area. They wanted to incentivize the villagers and farmers to be conservationists. After a huge awareness march for the elephants a couple of years ago the ball started rolling. A handful of poachers approached Moses. They wanted to stop killing animals, but it was their livelihood.
Moses was elated. Especially as the poachers brought him their snare wire and spears. He knew they were serious. Being a savvy man, Moses rallied support via Facebook and within short order had raised enough funds to begin two alternative income projects for these reforming poachers.
The first, bee keeping
Moses shows us the bee hives. They are made very simply. A place where the bees enter, are separated and where they make their honey. These hives are then placed strategically in bushes and trees. But where do the bees come from?
In a forest there are many bees, Moses tells us. They mostly live in trees. When a tree is cut down for charcoal, fire wood or other purpose the bees need a new home. To date, each bee hive has beens populated within a week or two. Wow!
Every three months honey is ready to harvest. About 3 liters per hive. One bottle goes to the poacher and his family and two bottles get sold.
Second, fish farming
Talapia fish are easily raised in ponds. Every week fish are harvested and divided up among the reformed poachers. Again, some are sold. In Moses’ true fashion, some money goes to the ex-poachers and some back to his organization to reinvest and pay for operational expenses. Expenses like fish food.
To date they have two fish ponds, with plans for a third as soon as the vegetables on that patch of land are harvested.
Well, it’s working!
Poachers are reforming and proud to be bee keepers and fish farmers. Not only that, they are encouraging others to do the same.
Moses leads us through a banana plantation (which is really like walking through a forest) to meet the ex-poachers and view their bee hives and fish ponds. Then, in the middle of a field a tarp and chairs have been set up. There we hear some of their stories.
As they can’t speak English Moses translates. Their former work was horrific! They tell of killing elephant with spears and hacking hippo to death with their pangas… ruthlessly snaring small buck and large antelope for bush meat… It’s all I can do not to cry! And now, today, they hold their heads high, happy to be making an honest living. However…
One big tall fella mentions that he still misses meat. So we brainstorm. Cows are too expensive and need too much space. Goats do too much damage to crops. How about chickens? They like that. Of course as a vegetarian I have mixed feelings about this idea, although I brought it up. However, if it keeps just one of these men from returning to killing wildlife… I hope the chickens will forgive me.
Before we leave Moses, after an inspiring and emotional day, Russ and I take stock of the cash we have osn hand. In Uganda $1 is around USH3,200! Needless to say it takes a whole pile of bills to make even $20. There are of course no ATMs anywhere for miles.
We figure out how much we need for fuel and camping (we have enough food) till we get to Fort Portal in a few days. I count out USH500,000 from our stack, dividing it in about half. Moses is so grateful.
But its not over. Here is the clincher. Less than a week after our visit Moses sends me word via Facebook that the chicken project had began and the former poachers are super happy.
Needless to say, we’re already receiving more donations to get to Moses for his work reforming poachers.
Helping is easy. Click the giraffe below to make a donation!