African governments doing more to stop poaching of endangered species

poaching, rhinoThis year in Africa, the fight between law enforcement and poachers of endangered species has flared into a war.

In the first two months of 2011, nine poachers were shot dead in South Africa. Despite this, poaching is up. In that nation alone, 333 rhinos were killed in 2010, and there have been 309 rhinos poached so far this year. It looks like the illegal hunters are set to break a grisly record.

Now South Africa is holding talks with Vietnam to reduce the demand for rhino horn, which some Asians use as an aphrodisiac and as a cure for cancer. Sometimes the horns are kept whole as curios or for religious rituals, as this 1930s photo of a Tibetan monk from the Bundesarchiv shows. The two governments are working on a plan to fight organized syndicates that trade in animal parts.

South Africa isn’t the only country seeing trouble, and isn’t the only country fighting back. In Zimbabwe, poachers have been poisoning water holes so they can kill animals silently and avoid detection by park guards. At least nine elephants, five lions, two buffaloes, and several vultures are known to have died.

Meanwhile, Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo are going to sign a treaty to cooperate across their borders to stop poaching of mountain gorillas and other species. The treaty also sets up joint research and education about the region’s diverse flora and fauna.

Rwanda pledges to save the environment

Rwanda has vowed to protect its environment The United Nations has declared 2011 as the “Year of the Forests” as it continues to work to encourage nations across the globe to take sustainable actions to protect the planet’s woodlands. One of the first countries to answer the call to action is Rwanda, which has laid out an ambitious plan to protect its jungles, even as it struggles to develop economically.

As most people know, Rwanda was devastated by civil war and genocide during the 1990’s. That struggle extended throughout the country and caused untold damage to its natural resources, including the rainforests that are home to a host of amazing creatures – not the least of which are the endangered mountain gorillas. Since that time, Rwanda has been experiencing plenty of growth and prosperity however, with the economy making strides forward in recent years and the population expanding at a rapid pace. Those conditions have put demands on the country’s natural resources, including the jungles. One report says that the Gishwati rainforest, for example, has shrunk in size by as much as 90% since 1960.

Earlier this week the Rwandan government vowed to change that pattern. Minister of Land and Environment Stanislas Kamanzi has pledged that “By the year 2035, Rwanda will have achieved a country-wide reversal of the current degradation of soil, land, water and forest resources.” A bold statement indeed for a country that faces many challenges to its continued growth.

The pledge was met with applause by environmentalists across the planet, who say that the commitment to protecting the environment is the first of its kind from a developing country. The plan is to not only re-plant and replenish forests, but to also build an infrastructure to improve water, work on soil conservation and build more sustainable agriculture as well.

One area that may aid Rwanda in their efforts is tourism. The country is already seen as a model for how ecotourism can be put to great use, as it is viewed as one reason why the population of mountain gorillas is increasing. Visitors to their protected habitat are willing to pay a hefty sum to spend a few hours with the creatures, and that money goes directly to preserving the forests that they call home. That same approach may be extended to protecting other regions and species in the country as well.

Rwanda’s landmark pledge to protect the environment is a good thing and hopefully they’ll be able to put it into action. In the long run, it will be an important piece to the country’s continued development and its ability to support its population. As an eco-conscious traveler, that’s just the kind of place that I want to support with my dollars.

[Photo credit: d_proffer via WikiMedia Commons]


Mountain gorillas making a comeback

gorilla, gorillas, mountain gorilla, mountain gorillas
In the latest in a spate of good news about wildlife conservation in Africa, BBC Earth reports that mountain gorillas have increased their numbers on Virunga Massif, their core habitat stretching across Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. From a population of only 250 thirty years ago, their population has almost doubled to 480 today. Another 302 live in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park .

The rise is attributed to increased cooperation between the three countries to protect the gorillas and stop poachers.

Safaris to see mountain gorillas have become increasingly popular with adventure travelers. Uganda has expanded its gorilla safaris in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Rwanda is also offering safaris to see the gentle giants.

African nations are getting better at preserving their wildlife. Namibia and Zimbabwe are clamping down on poaching and last year we reported how Niger has pulled a unique subspecies of giraffe from extinction.

[Photo courtesy user KMRA via Wikimedia Commons]

Uganda expands gorilla safaris

Uganda has started work on habituating another mountain gorilla group to humans in order to expand safaris in its famous Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.

Habituation involves gradually exposing gorillas to humans in order for the highly territorial groups to get accustomed to human presence. Once the gorilla groups become used to humans being around, they are much less likely to get frightened or aggressive when safari tours show up.

Safaris are big business in Uganda and those that track gorillas constitute about half of the country’s tourism revenue.

Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
, located in southwest Uganda, is made up of 331 square kilometers of thick jungle. Visitors have to travel through it on foot. It’s a tough journey but allows adventure travelers the chance to see one of the richest varieties of wildlife of any East African park. About 340 endangered mountain gorillas live in the park; sadly that constitutes half of the total population in the world. Because of its importance in protecting the gorillas and other plant and animal life, Bwindi is on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Chasing Gorillas in Rwanda

There are many great destinations around the globe in which travelers can get up close and personal with animals in their natural habitat. You can travel to the Serengeti and take in the Great Migration or head to Northern Canada for an encounter with a polar bear. Make the journey to the Galapagos, and you’ll get to see any number of unique creatures found no where else on Earth.

Although there are amazing wildlife encounters on every continent, few can compare with gorilla trekking in Uganda, where each day a very select group of travelers gets the opportunity to hike deep into the jungle and observe the giant primates as they interact with one another. That’s exactly what journalist Jeremy Thompson, and his wife Lynn did, resulting in this really great article on their journey for the Daily Mail.

Jeremy surprised Lynn with the trip to Africa for her 50th birthday, and that trip included a visit to Rwanda, where they joined six other travelers who hiked above 8000 feet for the chance to spend some time with the legendary Rwandan mountain gorillas. The shy and elusive creatures are quite rare. Just 700 of them remain in the wild, and because of that, only about 50 people are allowed to enter their realm on any given day, and even then the encounter lasts just one hour. Luckily for this couple, they booked a second gorilla trek just so they could spend a little more time with the apes.

.For Jeremy, returning to Rwanda was quite an experience in other ways as well. He covered the genocide that occurred there back in 1994, and returning now he found a country that has moved on from its violent past, but hasn’t forgotten it. Not that long ago, the place was one of the most dangerous nations on the planet, and now it’s borders are open and it has a lot to offer the traveler looking for a unique African experience