Conservation on the Ground: A Note from Rwanda

A crater lake in Rwanda's Virunga Mountains.

“We’re staying at the Green Witch Hotel,” said Tharcisse Ukizintambara as we waited for the taxi to pick us up from Kigali International Airport in Rwanda in the wee hours of Wednesday morning. Unfortunately, neither we nor the taxi driver knew where this hotel was located. And after two days of travel in coach class from Washington, D.C., all I wanted to do was to lie flat.

As we drove toward town I gazed out of the window and saw a sign for the Greenwich Hotel. “Is that it?” I asked Tharcisse, who works for BirdLife International. Turns out, it was.

I was in Kigali with the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF), running one of the consultation meetings that provide the foundation for a cohesive conservation strategy in each of the regions where we work. This meeting had brought together representatives from Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda to provide their technical savvy on a conservation strategy for the Eastern Afromontane biodiversity hotspot the world’s tenth most threatened forest hotspot — which covers 16 countries scattered along the eastern edge of Africa, from Saudi Arabia in the north to Zimbabwe in the south. Encompassing ecosystems as varied as montane forests, deep freshwater lakes and grasslands, the hotspot includes parts of Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, Somalia, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, Yemen and Zambia.

Among the 35 meeting participants in Rwanda were members of the Rwandese Association of Ecologists, the warden of the Parc des Volcans and a representative from the Global Environment Facility, all of whom are providing their input on the threatened species, sites and landscapes that make up the overall biological diversity of this region. They will also home in on the threats faced by these remaining habitats — and try to reconcile them with socioeconomic and policy considerations. Only by triangulating between all of these aspects can we produce a relevant and effective conservation road map that will have tangible, positive impacts on the ground.

While the all-important group photo of the participants (left) was being taken, we talked about how important it will be to engage local conservation champions considering the challenges discussed at the meeting. I am hopeful that with their involvement, conditions in the Eastern Afromontane hotspot can be improved for the benefit of both people and nature.

John Watkin is a grant director for the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund — a joint initiative of l’Agence Française de Développement, Conservation International, the Global Environment Facility, the government of Japan, the MacArthur Foundation and the World Bank.

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