Unveiling Bwindi’s Heart: Revelations from EGIs Attitude Survey on local communities perceptions on the conservation of Mountain Gorilla

In embracing community perspectives and fostering collaborative strategies, Uganda can chart a path towards conservation that honors both its natural heritage and the well-being of its people

Uganda boasts a remarkable population of mountain gorillas, with over 459 of these majestic creatures calling it home, representing nearly half of the world’s total estimated population of 1,063. Nestled within this habitat are the indigenous Batwa people, who have historically relied on the forest for sustenance and cultural heritage. However, their relationship with the forest changed when it was declared a protected park, leading to their displacement in 1991.

While the presence of mountain gorillas has significantly boosted Uganda’s tourism sector, with 814,508 tourists visiting in 2022 and generating $736 million in revenue, local communities adjacent to the park still hold varying perceptions and attitudes towards gorilla conservation. Many feel that the restrictions imposed on accessing park resources outweigh the benefits.

In light of these complexities, the Environmental Governance Institute (EGI) with support from IUCN Save Our Species conducted a survey to understand into the attitudes and perceptions of local communities towards mountain gorilla conservation in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in western Uganda. The survey, carried out between December 2023 and January 2023, aimed to understand the community’s stance and explore avenues for fostering resilient capacity in tourism host communities while safeguarding gorilla conservation.

Employing a cross-sectional research design coupled with a blend of qualitative methodologies, the survey sought a comprehensive assessment of attitudes and perceptions towards gorilla conservation. To elucidate the underlying context, reasons, and barriers shaping these attitudes and perceptions, the survey conducted focus group discussions, interviews, and documentary reviews. The research meticulously documented empirical quantitative evidence to determin the scale of local community attitudes and perceptions regarding mountain gorilla conservation in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.

The respondents for this research were drawn from eight villages spanning Buhoma and Ruhiija sub-counties in the districts of Kanungu and Rubanda, respectively. The research cohort, comprising 218 participants, encompassed community members residing along the fringes of Bwindi, local leaders including Local Council L.C.1 representatives, town council chairpersons, Uganda Wildlife officials, and opinion leaders from Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Data collection involved structured questionnaires, In-depth Interviews (IDIs), Focus Group Discussions (FGDs), and Key Informant Interviews (KIIs). Quantitative data underwent meticulous cleaning, editing, coding, and analysis utilizing the Statistical Package for Social Scientists (SPSS).

Key Findings

Community Attitude Towards Gorilla Conservation; The study delved into the community’s stance on gorilla conservation, probing whether they perceive benefits from conservation efforts, whether they would offer assistance in case of a trapped or injured gorilla, their stance on hunting within the park, and whether gorilla conservation should take precedence over other activities. Findings revealed that 82.6% of respondents perceive benefits from conservation, while 17.4% remain uncertain. Additionally, 59.6% expressed willingness to aid a trapped or injured gorilla, while 40.4% hesitated. Regarding hunting within the park, 37.2% advocated for freedom, contrasting with 62.8% advocating for conservation priority. Furthermore, 52.3% favored prioritizing gorillas over communities due to tourism revenue, while 47.7% contested this notion. However, an overwhelming 90.4% embraced co-existence with conservation activities, with only 9.6% citing cultural constraints.

Community Perception on Products and Services from BINP: Perceptions regarding products and services from Bwindi National Park underscored a mix of sentiments. While 76.6% acknowledged benefiting from park services or products resulting from gorilla conservation, 23.4% expressed dissent. Diving deeper, various forms of benefit emerged: 0.5% reported employment with conservation agencies, 7.8% noted tourists purchasing local crafts, 13.3% cited livelihood support from revenue products, and 14.7% found solace in mere tourist presence. Moreover, 23.4% sourced raw materials for building, 22.5% appreciated token monetary gifts from tourists, and 14.2% obtained crafting materials, though 3.7% reported no tangible gains.

Accessibility to the National Park; Analyzing community access to the national park revealed varying distances traveled. Results indicated that 19.7% reside within 0-1km, 34.9% within 1-2km, 28.9% within 2-3km, 13.8% within 3-5km, and 2.8% beyond 10km. Moreover, respondents attributed significant household development to participation in gorilla conservation, with 91.7% affirming positive impacts.

Community Challenges from BINP Conservation; Exploration of challenges experienced during mountain gorilla conservation highlighted prevalent issues. A notable 84.8% reported encountering challenges, citing gorillas destroying property (18.8%), crop destruction (24.8%), domestic animal attacks (14.2%), human attacks (11.5%), disease transmission (11.5%), prioritization of gorillas over humans by UWA (9.7%), with 8.8% reporting no challenges.

Gorilla Conservation Regulations; Regarding regulations governing gorilla conservation within Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, 83.5% affirmed their existence. Noteworthy regulations included anti-poaching measures, restrictions on proximity to gorillas, and rules regarding park entry. An overwhelming 98.2% advocated for regulations restricting encroachment, with only 1.8% opposing.

Roles of Communities in Gorilla Conservation and Decision Making; The study explored community involvement in gorilla conservation and decision-making processes, with 90.8% confirming active participation. However, only 13.8% reported engaging solely in tourism and gorilla conservation-related livelihood activities, indicating broader community roles beyond these spheres.

Access to Park Resources; Accessing park resources proved crucial for community sustenance, with 6.9% collecting firewood, 11% fodder, 10.1% timber, and varying percentages obtaining other essentials such as herbs, cultural rituals and others.

Access to Conservation Information; Dissemination of conservation information primarily occurs through diverse channels, including UWA (28.1%), NGOs (33.5%), and local leaders (23.9%), though 5.6% report inadequate information access.

Access to Other Social Services; Access to essential social services remains limited, with revenue sharing facilitating improvements in healthcare, water access, markets, and roads.

The survey’s findings underscore the need for actionable interventions to foster sustainable park management.

Samuel Okulony,

Chief Executive Officer EGI Uganda

 This publication was produced with the financial support of IUCN Save Our Species. Its contents are the sole responsibility of Environment Governance Institute and do not necessarily reflect the views of IUCN 

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