Much is being tried to stop the wild animal, bird, bee and tree poaching in the Nyungwe Rainforest
“Who’s the most dangerous animal?”
With this question Hope introduces his hiking guests to the Nyungwe rainforest in Rwanda. “Lion!” “Elephant!” Even “Hippo!” are the responses. However, Hope gently says, “No, it’s Humans!”
We’re fortunate enough to be in the Nyungwe rainforest on a slow day and Hope is our personal guide. He obviously loves his job. He enjoys sharing his experience and knowledge of nature. He is openly touched when talking about poaching and the depletion of the rainforest. “There used to be buffalo here… and elephant.”
The last elephant was killed by hunters in 1998. Since then the vines are a problem. They envelope the trees. He brightens up when he says there’s talk of reintroduction. The elephants in the Akagera National Park, on the east side of Rwanda, share the same DNA.
Why there’s Hope for the Nyungwe Rainforest
The fight against poaching is real here.
Trail cleaning: Although poaching remains a problem there is progress being made. As we stop to look at a signboard a group of men and women pass us by. “Some of them were poachers. Now they are path cleaners.” You can imagine in a rainforest how quickly hiking trails become gobbled up by the foliage. Local villagers gain employment by keeping them cleared.
Bee keeping: To prevent forest fires beekeeping is also proving successful. Villagers like to raid wild bee hives in trees. Not only is this damaging to the bee population, to access the honey fires are set. Frequently these run out of control causing much damage. Because honey, wild honey, is important for medicinal purposes, constructed bee hives are placed close to the forest’s edge. Not only attracting wild bees, but allowing them to feed in the forest. There were no fires caused by villagers in 2016. Definitely a success.
Teach the children: A fellow guide started a bird club for local kids. He brings students in for bird watching hikes. The children gain a love and respect for birds and are less likely to set snares to trap them. Parents become involved through their kids. This is a new program that is still very small, but as it grows there should be a reduction in bird poaching.
Tourist porters: Some visitors like to have a porter carry their lunch or backpack. Former poachers are being engaged in this for two reasons: One, it gives them alternative income; and two, they begin to understand the importance of the wildlife in their Nyungwe rainforest.
Use gas: To reduce the illegal cutting of trees to make charcoal Hope and his brother are actively encouraging the use of gas (an initiative coming from the President of the country himself.) The brothers even bought a small gas cooker for their mother. Of course at first she resisted the change, but now she loves it. “It’s so much easier and cleaner,” she tell Hope. Although gas cookers aren’t, gas is cheap, an incentive to reduce wood cutting for cooking.
We continue our hike. Hope is eager to point things out. Our hour and a half walk turns into three as we drink in the beauty of this unique place, the Nyungwe Rainforest.
May people like Hope prevail in saving this priceless wilderness.