By Ivan R. Mugisha
Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo have agreed to ratify the Greater Virunga Transboundary Collaboration (GVTC) treaty to protect the ecosystem that is home to the endangered mountain gorilla.
At a meeting of the Council of Ministers of the GVTC in Kigali on Thursday, the three countries set September as the deadline for finalising the national processes necessary for the ratification of the agreement.
In 2015, the three countries signed a treaty committing to sustainable conservation of the Greater Virunga landscape.
The treaty will determine a financing and profit-sharing model from tourism revenues, as well as create consensus on how to conserve the Virunga Massif and Bwindi ecosystem.
Once it is ratified and implemented, the three states will be charged with the responsibility to prevent illegal wildlife trade and poaching in protected areas, as well as increase the punishment for lawbreakers, said Vincent Munyeshyaka, Rwanda’s Minister of Trade and Industry.
“We are committed to having the treaty ratified and to abide to duties and responsibilities that are necessary for the well-being of our shared wildlife, especially the mountain gorillas that are a key pillar to tourism and economic growth,” Mr Munyeshyaka said.
The meeting was also attended by Ephraim Kamuntu, Uganda’s Minister of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities, and José Ilanga Lofonga, DRC’s Director General of Forest Resources.
“We need to strengthen our efforts through strong collaboration to protect the mountain gorillas’ natural habitat in the Virunga massif. We should also work out sustainable initiatives meant to prevent human-wildlife conflict,” said Ugandan tourism minister Ephraim Kamuntu at the meeting.
He called on the three countries to harness the latest technology to keep track of the gorilla’s movement patterns, habitat protection and keep records of population demographics.
“Implementation of the treaty will have a positive impact on the improvement of the livelihoods of our populations living around the protected areas within the Greater Virunga landscape shared by our three countries,” said Vincent Mukwege, GVTC communications officer.
The Virunga massif, also referred to as the Virunga Volcanoes, is a region that borders eastern DRC, northwest Rwanda and southwest Uganda, covering Mgahinga Gorilla Park, Volcanoes National Park and Virunga National Park.
Mountain gorilla move freely within the three countries.
Under the GVTC treaty the three countries agreed to jointly monitor the gorillas, organise tourist visits and share the income generated.
The GVTC Secretariat, located in Kigali, is charged with conducting co-ordinated activities to protect the region, but it is underfunded and has for the past 10 years relied on aid from the Netherlands government.
There are about 880 mountain gorillas in the Virunga and Bwindi regions. A census conducted in collaboration with the three countries — which is yet to be made public — estimates that the figure could have risen to more than 1,000.
In January, Rwanda increased its 16,000 hectare habitat for its growing population of rare mountain gorillas by 27.8 hectares. The land was donated by the African Wildlife Fund.
-Additional reporting by Xinhua