Rwandan women around Nyungwe National Park carry out activities aimed at combating animal poaching which is becoming rampant in the area.
The women say they launched anti-poaching initiatives in and around Nyungwe after realizing the importance of protecting the environment and species biodiversity in protected areas.
They argue this is because the residents if poaching not stopped would suffer the impact of degradation.
With 1,068 recorded plant species, 322 bird species, 75 known mammal species and 13 different primate species, the park provides 70% of Rwanda’s fresh water and is estimated to be worth $4.8 billion.
“When biodiversity is degraded, women are likely to face more effects than men due to their gender roles of searching for firewood, fetching water among others,” Seraphine Nyandwi, 35 years old observed.
Seraphine is one of the women from Nyamagabe District in the Southern Province who are committed to the protection of biodiversity species in the buffer zone of Nyungwe National Park and its surroundings, as wild species live in the area. Women said they used to see their parents hunting for meat in the Nyungwe forest, an activity that is currently illegal.
Seraphine said that after her own initiative to understand the importance of biodiversity, she realized the need to play a role in conservation. “We lack information and knowledge about conservation. But as a woman, I already understood the importance of biodiversity conservation and the fight against poaching, I also trained community members including former poachers and they stopped the activity illegal,” she said.
She said former poachers now play a role in sensitizing other members of the community to fight against poaching activities and participate in biodiversity conservation programs. Emmanuel Cyondi, 55, who is a former poacher from wildlife in Nyungwe National Park and its buffer zone, said local women told her how hunting is a threat to wildlife.”That’s how I stopped poaching,” he said.
“It is these women who walk around to raise awareness of the importance of protecting the environment and biodiversity. Some of my neighbors already knew that I was hunting animals in Nyungwe and that is why they approached me and told me about the negative impact. I have stopped poaching and will no longer hunt animals,” he said.
He said that strategies are needed to eliminate poaching in Nyungwe Park and its surroundings. I was doing – hunting animals in the forest for meat was illegal,” he said.He said that although it took him a while, he then changed to pointing out other poachers trying to hunt in the park.
“I alert local authorities and security organs so that hunters are arrested, prosecuted and punished by law,” he noted. Kevine Dusengimana, 26, is another woman committed to the conservation of biodiversity species. She says the community must play a role in tracking down poachers. Most poached wildlife includes deer, kobs, duiker (locally known as Ifumberi), host monkey (locally known as Icyondi), among others.
“As women, we are determined to fight against poachers and we will continue to campaign in other parts of our country because we have understood that biodiversity plays an important role in our lives,” Ms. Dusengimana added.
The women said that after realizing the importance of biodiversity conservation, they joined forces to form a group called UMURAVA, but they need support to build their capacity by mobilizing other Rwandans to participate in the environmental conservation programs.Another obstacle they face is the attitude of some men whose wives are involved in conservation.
“These men say they won’t take advantage of it and instead force their wives to stay home to fulfill their domestic responsibilities,” noted Pascasie Nyirampayimana, 42, another member of the group.
“Our husbands have a misconception about biodiversity conservation programs because some don’t understand the importance of conservation. Some say it’s a waste of time, others say we go there to prostitute ourselves while others say it’s a way to undermine men,” she said.
She pointed out that these challenges hamper their efforts to participate in conservation programs. “Some women prefer to stop participating in conservation programs to avoid conflict with their husbands,” she noted.
These women say the community does not value them due to a gender misconception surrounding what they do, the men argue that biodiversity conservation is not a source of income.
Residents around protected areas used to eat the meat of wild animals in the parks. In addition, men and women would hunt easy-to-catch animals like quails and rabbits using traps.
According to the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), women can play an important role in the fight against poaching. This is because they can form environmental protection groups in their communities. Together with the groups, they can teach the community about the benefits of conservation and anti-poaching. These grouped women will also help change the ways of their husbands and stop poaching in the park.
In Rwanda, gender balance is now part of the system, so local conservation experts are calling on women to ignore cultural resistance and raise their voices in the fight against animal poaching.This way, people will eventually listen and they will help local authorities identify poachers.
Director General of the Biodiversity Conservation Organization (BIOCOOR), Dr Ange Imanishimwe says he supports women in the conservation programs despite the fact that some have not yet understood that they can benefit economically from biodiversity.
“The challenge that affects women’s participation in biodiversity programs is that many people have not yet understood the importance of biodiversity, especially their husbands, because they do not have enough information about it.
But we will help them to campaign and engage in talks with men to let their wives participate in this program,” Dr Imanishimwe said.
The conservation expert also highlighted the need to engage men to support women’s participation in biodiversity conservation. Indeed, if men understand and support women’s efforts in biodiversity conservation, they will ensure that these measures will be accepted in the community.
This inclusive approach would also address the root causes of gender inequalities. It would also create awareness, which would lead to long-term benefits for the entire community and country.
What does the poaching law say? The amended Biodiversity and Wildlife Act recommended strong measures against poachers and those who traffic in wildlife as a means of protecting nature. a person found guilty of poaching, injuring, taking, harassing or breeding a wild animal and fined between Frw 500,000 ($482) and Frw 1 million ($966).
If the offense is committed against critically endangered or endangered species, the penalty is a prison term of not less than five years but not more than 10 years and a fine of not less than 5 million Frw ($4820) but no more than Frw 10 million ($9706).
A person convicted of possession, transfer, sale, purchase or use of a wild animal is liable to imprisonment for not less than three years but not more than five years and fine of at least Frw 1 million ($966) but not more than Frw 5 million. ($4820).
When the intended offense is committed against critically endangered or endangered species, the penalty is five to 10 years in prison and a fine of Rwf 5 to 10 million. Anyone who takes or destroys the eggs or nests of wild animals commits an offence.
If convicted, he is liable to a prison term of six months to two years and a fine of Frw 500,000 to Frw 1 million. In the event that this offense is committed against eggs or nests of critically endangered and endangered species, the penalty may range from three to five years and a fine of 2 to 5 million Frw.
According to the bill, a person convicted of removing animal species from their habitat, injuring them, transporting or peddling them is liable to a prison sentence of six months to two years and a fine of at least Frw 500,000, but not more than Frw 1 million.In case it is committed against endangered species, the prison sentence is increased between three and five years while the fine is between 2 and 5 million Frw.
The Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) is dedicated to “protect, restore and promote the sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss” and indeed Rwandan women around Nyungwe National Park are not left out.