Sarah Tolbert, MEM

2014 TRI Fellow in Rwanda

Community perceived perceptions of protected areas around the Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda

The potential impacts of protected areas (PAs) on local livelihoods are as diverse as the ecosystems they protect. The costs can range from the displacement of local communities from their land, to crop raiding by wildlife and restricted access to natural resources. Benefits can include access to employment in the tourism industry, new schools and health centers, and even improved organizational capacity. While the costs and benefits can vary widely, conservation organizations and governments now increasingly take into account the interconnected nature of livelihoods and biodiversity conservation through integrated conservation and development projects (ICDP).
Traversing up and down steep volcano slopes, I delved deeper into this contested form of conservation this summer in the Virunga- Bwindi Massai in collaboration with the International Gorilla Conservation Program.  From conversations with park wardens, ranger to household interviews, my preliminary results found stark differences in the way people perceive the benefits from PAs in the three countries. Congolese are wary of PAs because the forests harbor refugees. In Uganda, where the protected areas were established in the last two decades, people expressed how unfair they thought it was that gorillas could come onto their land, but if they went into the forest they would be arrested. Rwandans often cited clean air and water. Overall though, people across the landscape seem to connect benefits to the larger community, but still do not perceive any personal benefits from PAs.