How Eco-Tourism saved the Wildlife in the Rwenzori Mountains of Uganda
Updated: Feb 26, 2020
The Rwenzori Mountains are absolutely unique. They're in western Uganda, and from the rainforest at their base, to the last remaining tropical glaciers at the 5000+ meter summits, there's nothing like them in the world.
In September 2019 I embarked on a 10 day trek that changed my life. John Hunwick, founder of Rwenzori Trekking Services, invited me for a free guided trek in exchange for video material, but I was so inspired that I made a 15-minute documentary:
John first came to the Rwenzori Mountains in April 1991 and thought, "it's such a waste nobody is coming here to see this!" He got a concession from the government and with the help of the local people, started building the trails in 2009.
The villages around the edges of Rwenzori Mountains National Park had no income other than poaching animals out of the park and extracting trees and plants for firewood, building, food, and medicines. When Rwenzori Trekking Services opened, there was still a lot of illegal poaching in the park
They employed the poachers as porters, and by giving them an alternate income, they surrendered their weapons.
Now, the previously threatened Rwenzori duiker, rock hyrax, blue monkey, and colobus monkey populations are returning, and visitors can see these animals often.
Rwenzori Trekking Services has developed sustainability and wildlife education programs in local schools, and improved the quality of education by helping to build new classrooms and teacher accommodation with solar panels.
Their sustainability curriculum includes birdwatching and tree planting; birdwatching to help the children develop a love for birds, and tree planting to help recover the ecosystem, and strategically assist bird populations by planting fruiting trees they can eat.
"The kids love it," says teacher Monday Frederick, "whenever we have birdwatching and tree planting, the kids actively go out and participate."
By teaching the children the value of conserving nature, it can help preserve the animals and their habitat for future generations, and maintain an income from sustainable tourism.
"Supporting the locals by bringing in tourists, it can give them extra incomes, it can give them access to better education, better health, it can bring up their whole life. It can change the world." - John Hunwick, Founder
Rwenzori Trekking services, with the help of UNESCO, plans to re-introduce forest elephants to the Rwenzori Mountains National Park. Poached to extinction in that region, the forest ecosystem suffers without the "gardeners of the forest." Forest elephants play an important role in the forest of central Africa, by spreading seeds with their dung, and rooting around in the underbrush, they facilitate the growth of new young trees. Now, without the forest elephants, you can see there are no new trees growing in the forested zones.
When the project is underway, I'll be returning to cover the story.