It was at THIS moment that my conservation story really began. With this new found understanding, I began dedicating my time to understanding the human-wildlife and wildlife-human conflicts. Returning to school, my masters' thesis, "Ecotourism as a potential conservation incentive for local communities around Rwanda’s Parc National des Volcans," was dedicated to this cause. I needed to find a way that the local communities would directly benefit from the park and the mountain gorillas – not just suffer because of it.
Through conversations with local community members, it became apparent that small scale household income generating projects can have an impact on the well being of local residents. They can act as an incentive not only for conservation but also as an alternative to poaching. Instead of poaching, time would be spent on either agriculture or on different income generating projects that target tourists as consumers. These include arts and crafts, development of home-stays, and local tours circuits.
The challenge was to prove that the concept work. Proving it would require a capital investment. How to get the money became the problem. Again, like my role-model Dian Fossey, I would need to be willing to sacrifice. The first investment would have to come out of my own pocket. I took my life savings and invested it in a few local community projects – agriculture, creating programs for local porters to assist tourists in carrying items on gorilla treks, local craftsmen carving hiking sticks and more. Several months later, people from the local communities were bringing produce to my door and thanking me for my efforts...and I had the data to prove that my thesis would work.
Thus began my crusade to work with the community, provide incentives for conservation anf find ways how loca people can be part of the conservation team and be proud of their biodiversity...