Project: The effects of human-wildlife conflict on conservation and development: a case study of Volcanoes National Park, northern Rwanda
Few can contend the importance of conserving our most endangered of species, such as the snow leopard, the blue whale, or the mountain gorilla. These are major challenges in their own right, requiring dedicated action, advanced research, extensive investment and widespread political engagement. As well as this, our planet’s resources are being outstripped by an ever-increasing human population, all of whom have a right to basic human rights. These humanitarian challenges similarly require firm action, research, investment and political engagement. Unfortunately for both struggles, many of these problems occur simultaneously in our ever-pressurised world, usually around protected areas harbouring endangered species but also providing fertile soil, firewood and job opportunities. Thus, finding a mutually beneficial solution to both these challenges is no easy task…!
My recently-completed PhD addressed one such conflict; between conservation and human development goals around a Rwandan protected area. Volcanoes National Park (VNP) in northern Rwanda harbours one of the few remaining populations of mountain gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei) and golden monkeys (Cercopithecus mitis kandti) and is also a hugely valuable source of tourism revenue for the Rwandan government. Surrounding this park, however, is one of the densest human populations on mainland Africa. In some regions of the park edge this exceeds 1000 people per km2; that’s urban density, but everybody is a subsistence farmer! Additionally, most park-adjacent farmers have an annual income of less than $530.
On top of this, conflict between these people and the park is made worse by “crop raiding” animals from the park, who eat or damage subsistence crops. In doing so, this leads to reduced support for the park’s conservation and directly impacts the livelihoods of extremely marginalised people.
So, the challenge lies in somehow marrying the ideals of the many NGOs and government bodies working towards human development and the many national and international workers striving for biological conservation of this critically endangered biodiversity.
Through a mixed methods approach of focus groups, interviews, and direct measurement of crop damage across an entire year, this project has characterised the issue of crop raiding. Additionally, it has positioned this conflict in a political ecology framework which takes into account the political, ecological and social drivers and consequences of the crop raiding.
Overall this project had three key findings:
- Crop raiding is a significant limitation to livelihoods in the region, but is only one of many other limitations experienced by rural Rwandans.
- This limitation does not affect everyone equally, however, both in terms of the impact it has and the benefits they receive from park conservation and tourism revenue
- In addition to local drivers of this conflict, like the ecology and spatial pressures of the area, this conflict also stems from more distal elements of its political ecology, including a national economic incentive to control agriculture, the continued intervention of agro-industry and the preservation of tourism revenue.
This project has not presented answers. What it has done is highlight previously understudied drivers of conflict and tabled this as an issue, in a new light of social considerations to conservation actions, at varying scales of time and space.
Mc Guinness and Taylor (2014). Farmers’ perceptions and actions to decrease crop raiding by forest-dwelling primates around a Rwandan forest fragment. Human Dimensions of Wildlife 19(2), pp.179-190. DOI: 10.1080/10871209.2014.853330
Mc Guinness (submitted). The political ecology of crop raiding: effects of land tenure and agro-industry on human-wildlife conflict
Mc Guinness (in prep.) Patterns and correlates of human-wildlife conflict on the margins of Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda.
This research was kindly supported by the Irish Research Council (formerly IRCSET).