Musanze – Scores of former poachers around the Virunga Massif, are contributing to a good cause as conservationists, after being rehabilitated.
Over 550 ex-poachers grouped into 19 cooperatives under the umbrella association Amizero, in the 12 sectors surrounding the Volcanoes National Park, practice agriculture, art crafts, and tourism conservation activities. The ex-poachers are also involved in the protection of mountain gorillas, building the park’s fence, patrol the park, and participate in sensitizing others against wild meat.
“We know the value of the park. We are living a decent life, yet before, we used to live like wild animals, eating fruits, vegetables, and meat, all from the forest. But Rwanda Development Board has helped us find alternative activities and a way of living,’’ said Celestin Safari, 57, who started poaching at the age of 12.
According to the Chief Park Warden, Prosper Uwingeri, the process of transforming ex-poachers started as part of an education campaign targeting special groups who were a threat to the mountain gorillas.
“The plan was to make ex-poachers part of the team involved in wildlife management, conservation activities and introducing a revenue sharing scheme to make them partners,’’ Uwingeri told The New Times.
At Ibyiwacu Cultural Village, in Nyabigome village, Kinigi sector, a cultural site, the ex-poachers showcase traditional works, including the king’s palace setting, iron works, grinding stones, dances and also offer local beer to tourists.
“We still face a problem of animals invading our land; our crops are often destroyed, by stray animals and we are not compensated,” safari said.
The traditional activity for all the historically marginalized people around the park, was poaching. The group relied on the meat as livelihood, including exchanging it for food crops with their colleagues.
“We are now able to send our children to school, they are no longer bird hunters,; we drink clean water, wear shoes and have health insurance,’’ said Enoch Barora, a blacksmith at the Village, said.