There is a general notion that says “forests ecosystem will never vanish from the face of the world due to their fast expansion, large number of species, and global distribution” (Pompa et al., 2010). However, it has been argued that ecosystems in various parts of the world should be protected and conserved for future generations (Pompa et al., 2000). Have you ever heard of the world’s greatest treasures? I’m guessing you might be thinking of gold, silver, and oil! Endemic species, for example, account for a large proportion of them. Endemic species are those species that are found only in a specific geographical location (Biodiversitya, 2019).

Case study country: Rwanda

Fig1.A map showing all the four National parks in Rwanda.

Source: Rwanda National Parks (2021)

Rwanda is a landlocked country in the great Albertine Rift Valley (ARV) that is surrounded by National Parks (NP), specifically Akagera National Park (ANP), Nyungwe National Park (NNP), Gishwati-Mukura National Park (GMNP), and Volcanoes National Park (VNP).  ANP has 100 Albertine Endemic (AE) species, NNP has 137 AE species, GMNP has 163 AE species, and VNP has 185 AE species. These National Parks have a significant impact on the surrounding community, the country’s finances, and the environment. VNP is one of them, and it is well-known for harboring over 600 Mountain Gorillas. Tropical rainforests like Nyungwe National Park provide 70 % of Rwanda’s water (African parks & Rwanda Development Board, 2020). When species in an ecosystem become endemic or endangered, it signals that those species are on the verge of extinction. This is why wildlife conservation is vital not only for the sake of saving particular species, but also for biodiversity. Extinction is imminent if wildlife is not conserved. Wildlife and biodiversity is at stake for the reasons of introduction of exotic species, human activities leading to degradation, the weakness of focusing on the particular species over the whole ecosystem. It is important for the ministry of forestry and management of the environment, public and private conservation initiatives, ecotourism and local people to understand the importance and ways of planning measures on wildlife and biodiversity preservation and protection.

Why is wildlife and biodiversity  in Rwanda at stake?

Fig 2. Eucalyptus (exotic) plant species image.

Source: News bulletin, (2020)

Exotic species are gaining a foothold in Rwanda. This is one of the most serious threats to the world’s biodiversity, not just to Rwanda. When exotic (non-native) species are introduced into an area, their local abundance increases rapidly and has a negative impact on the flora and fauna. Throughout many cases, exotic species may be invasive while also negatively impacting endangered native species ( Wronski,2017). Mugunga (2017) research studies shows how exotic plant species were introduced in Rwanda, and their likeness by people for example, is found in many different parts of the country, such as botanical gardens, home gardens, farms, and artificial forests, small forests owned by people or the government, and it has also brought income to people by selling timber products and getting trees for agroforestry or construction purposes. However, there has been no appropriate management of their distribution, which has had a harmful impact on the environment. Therefore, the spread of exotic species as one of the main threats to biodiversity is the reason why wildlife is at stake. Furthermore, illegal activities in national parks are another threat to wildlife.

Fig 3. Poaching in Rwanda/ Why do poachers kill gorillas in Rwanda?

Source: Gorillas National Park in Rwanda, (2021)

Human illegal activities in reserved places is another issue why wildlife is at stake. Some illegal activities such as poaching, deforestation and livestock farming in National Parks have led to loss of ecosystems while some species have been endangered (Gatwaza and Wang 2021). And the major causes of the illegal activities include, ignorance, poverty and commercial purposes (Munanira et al., 2017). With solutions to end illegal activities created, such as Tourism Sharing Revenue (TSR), which shares 10% of revenue from tourism activities to people living near Rwandan National Parks, it is not helping a large number of people because it found so many people living near NP in extreme poverty, and thus 10% to be shared to these people is very small (Munanira et al., 2016).People are still hunting for food, looking for medicinal plants, burning wood, and deforestation for commercial purposes in the NP. As a result of illegal practices, many plants and animals are threatened, and thus solutions on both sides, whether to local people or ecosystems and biodiversity conservation, should be established ahead of time before it’s too late. Therefore, human illegal activities are one of the leading drivers of species extinction. Furthermore, Rwanda’s protection systems prioritize preferred and direct income species over the entire ecosystem, putting wildlife conservation at stake.

The weakness of focusing on the protection of preferred species rather than the ecosystem is also another reason why wildlife conservation is at stake. The Protected Areas (PA) in Rwanda are ANP, NNP, GMNP and VNP (Gatwaza and Wang 2021). Several scholars have pointed out weaknesses in the protection of such vital areas (Gatwaza &Wang 2021; Vina et al., 2017; Watson et al., 2015). Mountain ranges, for example, serve as biodiversity hotspots, mainly for mountainous species, however present protection mechanisms fail to promote species distribution shifts (Gatwaza and Wang 2021). The PA are intended to conserve the entire ecosystem rather than  to be  solitary species. It will be tragic if certain species go extinct while others are saved. The loss of a single species from the food chain has far-reaching consequences both up and down the food chain. A delicate balance exists between prey and predator species, as well as the plant kingdom. If an animal or plant species goes extinct, other species may outgrow and thrive with no harm to their population increase. The NP system was designed to steer economic progress in the direction of ecological sustainability and ensure environmental advancement; yet significant emphasis is placed on preferred and direct income species providers over the ecosystem. As a result, there is a weakness in focusing on the protection of particular species rather than the ecosystem. Additionally, effective measures should be taken by all the involved stakeholders in order to save nature as well as saving the earth.

Is it too late to save nature?

Despite the fact that wildlife is at risk, several solutions have been developed to bring light on the matter. However, more work needs to be done in order to implement successful reforms and interventions in the afflicted species, ecosystem, and communities. With the concern of the government of Rwanda, ministry of forestry and Rwanda Environmental Management Authority (REMA), public and private conservation initiatives, ecotourism projects, local people, and a connection of conservationists, there should be better guidance on conservation practices. Conservation and ecotourism initiatives should create forums and training to educate Rwandans, particularly those who live near NP, regarding conservation programs such as advocating people about the dangers of destroying vegetation, forests, and national parks, which can be accomplished by creating job opportunities to engage them with a great purpose. The NP system should do additional analysis to amend the PA plan, which protects all areas with ecosystem services rather than specific species protection, in advance to avoid the extinction of many threatened species by conserving one. To ensure the sustainability of the ecosystem and the welfare of the people, the government should conduct a cross-check of existing and upcoming conservation and ecotourism initiatives to ensure that their profiles’ visions and missions match their daily activities in bringing and creating effective change to nature and the communities involved.

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References
African Parks & Rwanda Development Board. (2020) Rwanda, African Parks commit to long-term protection of Nyungwe National Park. Retrieved on 6 December, 2021 from https://www.africanparks.org/rwandan-government-makes-bold-commitment-long-term-protection-nyungwe-national-park-partnership

Gatwaza, O.C. and   Wang, X. (2021) Mapping of biodiversity hubs and key ecosystem services as a tool for shaping optimal areas for conservation. Retrieve on 23 November, 2021 from https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0253151

Munanura, I.E., Backman, K.F., Sabuhoro, E., Powell, R.B., Hallo, J.C. (2017) The perceived forms and drivers of forest dependence at Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda. Rwanda. Retrieve on 23 November, 2021 from https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/23251042.2017.1414661

Mugunga, C.P., Kool, D., Van Wijk, M.T.,  Mohren, G.M.J., Giller, K.E. (2015). Water use by short rotation Eucalyptus woodlots in southern Rwanda. Retrieved 26 October 2021, from https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10457-015-9843-5

Wronski, T., Bariyanga J.D., Sun, P., Plath, M., Apio, A. (2017) Pastoralism versus Agriculturalism—How Do Altered Land-Use Forms Affect the Spread of Invasive Plants in the Degraded Mutara Rangelands of North-Eastern Rwanda? Retrieved on 6 December, 2021 from https://www.mdpi.com/2223-7747/6/2/19/htm

Watson J. E. M., Dudley N., Segan D. B., and Hockings M. (2015) The performance and potential of protected areas. Retrieved on 6 December, 2021 from https://www.nature.com/articles/nature13947

Vina A. and Liu J. (2017) Hidden roles of protected areas in the conservation of biodiversity and ecosystem services,” Ecosphere, vol. 8, no. 6,  Retrieved on 6 December, 2021 from https://esajournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ecs2.1864