Greater Virunga Landscape
A spectacular mosaic of forest, savanna, mountains, and lakes with the greatest vertebrate diversity in Africa, the Greater Virunga Landscape (GVL) is a conservation priority landscape identified for the Albertine Rift ecoregion and hotspot. Straddling the borders of Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo this 5,1000 square mile area; one tenth the size of New York is one of the most biodiverse places on earth. The Landscape contains 293 mammal species ,890 birds,135 reptiles, 91 amphibians and at least 3,755 plant species. There are few other places that come close to this species diversity. Additionally, there are at least 241 endemic species limited to the Albertine Rift Region and 109 threatened species (IUCN Redlist species). It is home to the world population of mountain gorillas, had the largest population of hippopotamuses in the world in the 1970s and the highest biomass of large mammals recorded on earth at the same time. Other large mammals include elephants, buffalos (possibly three species), okapis, chimpanzees, Red colobus, Uganda mangabey, Uganda kob, topi, waterbuck, giant forest hog and many other species.Conserving this magnificent place will assure the survival of 43% of Africa’s bird species,27% of mammals, and more than 10% of reptiles, amphibians, and plants.
WCS’ current work in Uganda is focusing on:
1. Identifying Landscape Species: In 2004, WCS worked with partners to identify Landscape Species within the GVL that require management at a landscape scale. Since that time we have focused our efforts on these species, which include elephants, hippopotamus, chimpanzees, gorillas, lions,leopard, spotted hyaenas, buffalo, and vultures. We have monitored their populations through aerial and ground surveys and started projects on specific research on some species ( lions,elephants, hyaenas, and vultures ).
2. Conserving lions in the Queen Elizabeth National Park: We are monitoring lion populations at QENP, estimating numbers, tackling the direct threats that are causing the population to decline, and finding solutions to the human-wildlife conflict that occurs when lions kill livestock outside the park.
3. Supporting the management of vegetation in Queen Elizabeth National Park:Some introduced species and naturally occurring species are spreading and taking over large areas of the park. WCS is testing control methods with a student from Makerere University.
4. Supporting the improvement of law enforcement in the Landscape: WCS is working to achieve this aim through better analysis of MIST data, which highlights the clumped nature of existing patrols. We are working on methods to improve patrolling as a deterrent.
5. Working with partners: We are supporting the Institute for Tropical Forest Conservation (ITFC), Mbarara University’s research station based in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. The ITFC undertakes research on mountain gorillas, monitors legal use of the forest by people, wildlife populations and climate change, and makes assessments of the effectiveness of community conservation initiatives.
WCS’s initiatives to conserve the Landscape
WCS has been supporting conservation efforts in this Landscape for many years with some of the following key achievements:
1. WCS scientist George Shaller made the first study of gorillas in the wild in 1959-1960 in this Landscape
2. WCS conservation scientists Bill Weber and Amy Vedder established mountain gorilla tourism, which now funds the conservation of many of the protected areas in this landscape.
3. WCS supported survey work of the Bwindi impenetrable Forest Reserve by Tom Butynski in 1984-86 and by Tom Struhsaker in Kibale Forest Reserve from 1970-1990. These studies provided information that led to the creation of Bwindi Impenetrable and Kibale National Parks.
4. WCS established the Makerere University Biological Field Station in Kibale National Park with Makerere University in 1994
5. WCS started supporting transboundary collaboration in the Greater Virunga Landscape in 2003 increasing collaboration and coordination between Uganda and DRC for Queen Elizabeth,Rwenzori Mountains, Semuliki and Virunga National Parks. This promotion of the larger landscape beyond the mountain gorilla area eventually led to the creation of the Greater Virunga Landscape Transboundary Core Secretariat, which now oversees transboundary collaboration in the Landscape for the three countries.
6 WCS rolled out a ranger-based monitoring system, MIST, that is now used by most parks in the landscape to measure the effectiveness of management actions and the trends in threats in these parks.
Threats to the conservation of the Landscape
Threats to this Landscape include pressures from the growing human population living next to the parks on the natural resources, hunting of wildlife for bushmeat and wildlife products, illegal settlement in the parks and grazing of livestock in the parks, pressures to de-gazette parts of the parks and illegal timber harvesting. Poaching of wildlife using snaring is relatively common in most Protected Areas and armed hunting is also relatively common in Virunga Park.
Only fifty years ago large mammals moved easily between many of these Protected Areas because there were very few human settlements near them. Today it is only the narrow linkages joining these protected areas that enable species to move between them. WCS has shown that these linkages have been critical in saving species during times of civil war in the region and also are critical to maintaining genetic diversity and viability of species.