Edwin SABUHORO: The Beginning
I thought my conservation story began back in 1989. That was the year I first read about Dian Fossey and her dedication and heroic efforts to save the mountain gorillas. Her story touched me, and led to my continued education and career in conservation and eco-tourism.
But my real conservation story actually began in 2005. While serving as the tourism warden at Parc National des Volcans, a rumor began circulating about a poached baby gorilla for sale. At first, there was nothing particularly special about this – rumors of this nature always abound amongst the communities surrounding the Parc, but rarely have a basis in truth as the penalties for poaching are quite steep. Except this time. This time the rumor persisted. A sum of money and a remote jungle meeting place was named. Could I ignore this lead? I found myself at a cross-road, confronted with the danger of going to an isolated location with a large sum of money, to meet with people whom I had no idea of their intentions, but certainly weren’t well intentioned...... Would I, like Dian Fossey, be willing to give my life to save one baby gorilla?
The answer was YES. As part of a clandestine operation in cooperation with park officials, we raised the money. Disguised as a Swahili business man, I traveled to the remote jungle location to meet with the poachers. And to my horror, in exchange for a moderate sum of money, I was handed a canvas bag containing a baby gorilla. Arrests were made and the baby gorilla was delivered to the Karisoke Research Center to be raised.
Right then I asked myself WHY? Why would someone in today’s day and age poach a baby gorilla? How could this still be happening with all the conservation work, penalties and fines around poaching?
I didn’t have the answers. But the poachers and their families did. And when I visited them I was told: "Look at my children, my family. I have so many mouths to feed. The animals from the park – the buffalo and the gorilla – they come out of the park and trample and eat my crops. My family is starving. I know that poaching is dangerous, but the money will allow me to feed my family for one year. The decision is easy – I will feed my family."
And I felt helpless. I knew in that instant that everything I had done to date in the parks of Rwanda and as the head of tourism for PNV and mountain gorilla trekking wouldn’t be enough. Poaching would continue and the mountain gorillas would eventually cease to exist.
I found out that, as George B.Schaller put it, ....."yet conservation has as much to do with ethical imperatives as with human poverty and the gorillas as lucrative commodity. Societies must use their land with love and respect, they must change their loyalties and affection to guarantee all creatures the right to exist. And conservation also deals in emotion. When i look back on my time with the gorillas, i remember the magic of the animals, the beauty of a family patriach, his silver saddle sparkling like morning frost. Such images are anchored in my heart. That in this supposedly enlightened age the mountain gorillas remains so vulnerable, its existence so wholly dependent on human whims, fills me with exasperation and indignation. Its loss would be a death in the family"
Just as Mark Condioti said..." if you want to talk about the furture, talk about the future of human race. in the next twenty years there are worse things that might happen to the whole planet that could happen to the gorillas. With continued, thoughtful protection, the population of gorillas could double in the years ahead; the amount of land can sustain much more than the present population. But great deal depends on man's relationship to them"