Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Access to environmental education must be part of a positive future for Virunga, its communities and wildlife.

Virunga faces a new threat in the face of plans to drill for oil in Africa’s oldest national park.  This beautiful region, which is so rich in natural resources and home to no less than three taxa of great ape, enters a new and potentially devastating phase.

Virunga and the communities that live there have endured many periods of conflict. It is one of the most difficult places in the world to be a Park Ranger, with 120 killed protecting the park and its wildlife and civilians in recent years, and many more injured.

Around one third of the world’s last remaining mountain gorillas live in Virunga and are themselves under threat, from habitat loss due to illegal charcoal production and pressure for land, transmission of human diseases, poaching, and snares for bush meat hunting, compounded by decades of conflict.

Mountain gorillas at rest

But conflict and exploitation should not be allowed to define the park, which is so beautiful, rich and diverse. Here at Gearing up for Gorillas (G4G), we believe that environmental education holds the key to protecting Virunga in the long term and ensuring the critically endangered mountain gorillas live there unharmed for generations to come.

That’s why G4G helped fund the school in Rumangabo, in the national park, where many of the park rangers’ children now study. In 2012, we also delivered a pedal powered cinema to Virunga, thanks to generous funding from Animal Friends Insurance and a partnership with Electric Pedals. Now conservation films can be shown in remote schools with no electricity. The first showing, at Rumangabo School, was greeted with great excitement and the rangers called it “an awesome bit of kit”.

Children watching a pedal-powered cinema

The next stage of the education programme is to open an Environmental Education Centre in Virunga, which children from other communities across the National Park can visit. The building has already been constructed; the funding for a teacher and their training is secured, so just the displays, equipment and resources are left to fund.

The environmental education centre

Basic but interactive displays will be used to make the Centre bright, colourful and engaging. The displays and activities will have clear and simple messages that the children can have fun discovering.

Children visiting the Centre will be treated to a brief visit to the orphan mountain gorilla facility, the Senkwekwe Centre (which G4G also helped fund). Many of these children will not have seen a mountain gorilla before, despite living in proximity to them. There will also be a web cam in the Senkwekwe Centre to relay images back to the classroom.

Andre and orphan gorilla Ndakasi at the Senkwekwe Centre

A visit will be a huge adventure for the children, and it is hoped the knowledge that they gain will ensure the next generation of community leaders will value the wildlife and biodiversity of the area and lead conservation efforts of the future.

The kind of displays that you might see in the Centre could include giant play cubes painted with wildlife scenery, gorillas, elephants or hippos, and the colourful birds and flowers of Virunga; or perhaps an exhibit allowing children to weigh themselves and compare their weight to a mountain gorilla at various stages of development. The Centre will also feature appropriate resources about the threats to the gorillas.

The intention is to take templates and designs out to Virunga, and commission local craftsmen, who will make up displays from local materials, all paid for by G4G. This will provide work for local carpenters and ensure an immediate benefit to the local economy.

Pictures, murals and displays for the walls, worksheets, books and activities, stationary and other equipment will all be needed.

Article by Amanda Williams, photos used by the permission of Gearing up 4 Gorillas.

Amanda Williams is Environment & Energy Manager at Bournemouth University and a Trustee of Gearing up for Gorillas (G4G), the only UK charity focusing 100% on protecting the critically endangered mountain gorillas of Virunga National Park, DRC. The aim of the charity is to support the park rangers and vets, whose job is to protect the mountain gorillas, and their communities.

You can get in touch and support G4G through the following channels:

Gearing up for Gorillas (G4G)
87 Chapel Farm Cottages
Gussage St Andrew
Blandford Forum
Dorset DT11 8DL
Tel: 01725 553149 / 07801 531205            
Twitter: @G4G_Gorillas


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