RUBAVU— The United States assistant Secretary of State for Oceans, Environment and Science, Claudia A. McMurray, has said that her government will continue to support the conservation of the unique species of mountain gorillas found in the Virunga Mountains.
McMurray said this while at a two-day ministerial conference that started July 14 at Serena Kivu Sun Hotel in Gisenyi town.
The conference, which was sponsored by the United States Government, brought together tourism ministers from the three countries that share the trans-boundary Virunga region which include Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda, to highlight the successes and challenges to conservation and economic development in the three states.
She said that the United States government, together with other donor countries and various NGOs, will support the ongoing efforts among the governments that share the Virunga region to conserve biodiversity and support development objectives laid down in a ten-year strategic plan to conserve the unique natural resources of the region.
“The remarkable dedication of our conservation partners in Virunga, despite many dangers, deserves wide recognition. We believe that conservation can play an integral role in establishing stability and supporting economic development in the region,” said McMurray.
According to Rwanda’s minister of Trade and Industry, Monique Nsanzabaganwa, gorillas are a common resource shared by the three countries, and the three states have the moral obligation to protect these valuable resources on behalf of the entire world.
“Conservation of the gorillas in Virunga Mountains cannot be done by only one state because they (gorillas) don’t need passports to cross to the trans-boundary Virunga region. That is why we should combine forces and cooperation in protection and preservation of these unique species,” she explained.
Uganda’s Tourism State minister Serapio Rukundo said that sustained tourism growth was one of the major ways to economic development. He said there was need to protect the landscape that is home to one of the worlds’ most endangered and threatened species.
“As we discuss conservation in the region, we must be mindful of the people we serve, like those who live along the protected areas because they are part of the landscape and therefore part of conservation. These are the people whose land and crops are destroyed by the animals. We must therefore prove our relevancy to the people we serve through enhanced conservation benefits by proper manifestation of shared policy of poverty reduction,” he said.
In her remarks, the director of the Rwandan Office of Tourism and National Parks (ORTPN) Chantal Rosette Rugamba thanked the United States and other donor countries for supporting the three countries in their struggle to fulfill their ten-year strategic plan laid down to conserve the unique natural resources of the region.
“The mountain gorillas found in the trans-boundary Virunga region are unique and the very few remaining species worldwide. Virunga Mountains contain 325 out of the 720 remaining mountain gorillas in the world,” explained Rugamba, adding that their uniqueness was a blessing since they uphold the tourism sectors in the three countries.
She said that the three countries need to come up with a permanent insecurity and poverty eradication strategy since both factors were major enemies of the wellbeing of the mountain gorillas.
“Last year, seven mountain gorillas were murdered in the DRC territory. This was a great loss that attracted the attention of the world media. We should therefore find a permanent security solution to avoid further losses,” Rugamba said.
She revealed that Rwanda alone generated US$7 million from tourists who came from allover the world to visit the unique gorillas last year, and that ORTPN expects the revenue to increase to US$8 million this year.
She also thanked the Netherlands government for supporting Rwanda in its conservation programmes.