The future of wildlife is faced with a dynamic duo often pegged as an antagonistic dichotomy – tourism for profit versus conservation of the ecosystem.
This standing relationship has for a long time been observed in isolation where those pro conservation have come against pro tourism, but luckily, progress has been made in that aspect, hence the birth of concepts like sustainable tourism.
Today, Rwanda represents a beautiful example of the type of transformation that can happen when the well-being of wildlife is prioritised. With tourism as the dominant sector of the economy, Rwanda proves that the former can co-exist side by side with conservation.
In 2015, Rwanda re-introduced lions at the Akagera National Park after a decade-long absence and in the same year, Gishwati- Mukura was declared the fourth National Park.
While the world’s wildlife population is increasingly under threat, Rwanda’s story offers a different narrative.
Given the tremendous effort put in preserving wildlife and its habitat, Rwanda makes for a successful case study for conservation. Much of Rwanda’s achievement is owed to partnerships; from grassroots to international level and robust policies.
After several trials, Rwanda can confidently say that community-centred approaches have led to a positive boost to the outcome of conservation activities. It is in this context that the high level forum – the Conservation on Conservation (CoC) – was born; it is a platform where all members of the value chain conveneto talk about the protection of wildlife and the evolving relationship between conservation and sustainable tourism.
The Conversation on Conservation was launched in 2015 with the objective to discuss Africa’s common challenges faced in conservation and tourism, to debate and find practical solutions in addressing these collectively.
The 2015 forum highlighted the collaborative efforts with neighbouring countries as well as public-private partnerships that have improved the sustainability of tourism in the country, as Prime Minister, Anastase Murekezi said at the launch of the first Conversation on Conservation in Kigali.
For example, the Greater Virunga Trans-boundary Collaboration (GVTC) between Uganda, DR Congo and Rwanda within whose borders the famed mountain gorillas dwell, has led to a hike in the Great Apes population.
The debut edition set the bar high with keynote speaker Dr Amy Vedder, a long-time conservation partner, friend of Rwanda and panelist Daudi Sumba, the vice president of programme design at the African Wildlife Foundation Conservation Centre in Kenya.
For the second run, Rwanda is bringing together another round of world leaders in conservation and tourism.
Returning and new guests of the second Conversation on Conservation can expect an eventful discussion under the theme, “United in driving economic growth through conservation”, a topic that is sure to stir a lively debate.
High level guests include Sandy J. Andelman, the chief scientist and senior vice president at Conservation International. Dr Andelman’s scientific expertise includes tropical ecosystems, biodiversity, climate change and interactions between the environment and human well-being, as well as the design of monitoring systems and systematic conservation planning.
Through her work, she advocates the importance to develop new approaches to studying the increasingly connected world and envisions dynamic collaborations between scientists and policy makers that transcend organisational and national boundaries.
This year, the Conversation on Conservation forum to be held on August 29-30, will take on a two-day format that will include a keynote presentation, two panel discussions and working groups to further explore the agenda topics and conceive actionable solutions.
Up for discussion are: Case study on the survival of Rwanda’s ecosystem and its species; Sustainable Development Goals and the conservation of Africa’s ecosystems and new ways to address illegal wildlife trafficking in Africa.
According to Belise Kaliza, the chief tourism officer at Rwanda Development Board, the forum will be special as it precedes the World Tourism Month, a key period in the year that brings awareness to the importance of tourism and its social, cultural, political and economic value.
The event will provide a platform to share Rwanda’s experiences with the rest of the world and discuss how we can all promote and improve the relationship between conservation and sustainable tourism. Rwanda is a country full of natural treasures which makes it a premier tourism destination where our inclusive approach to growing the industry is reflected in every product.”
The role of the private sector, development partners and civil society in the national conservation agenda will also be debated. How regional integration affects conservation efforts, the current policies and institutions set up to support conservation as well as how people can responsibly manage tourism to reduce impact on the fragile species and ecosystem will be debated.