Rwanda, 12.63 million inhabitants, 26.338 km2 (slightly larger than Sicily), is a former Belgian colony located along the Rift Valley and is one of the most beautiful countries in the world. Despite its sad past, the civil war between 1990 and 1993 that caused the extermination of a third of the population. During the war, about a million Tutsi were massacred by the Hutu, who were the majority of the population, without anyone lifting a finger. The caste of the Tutsi consisted mainly of shepherds dedicated to the breeding of livestock, that of the Hutu was made up mainly of peasants. In Rwanda, there were also the Twa, humble day-workers mostly dedicated to domestic services.

In the early 1990s they began to kill each other ruthlessly and everything happened with almost absolute indifference throughout the world. At the UN (United Nations) it was said that nothing could be done and intervening was practically impossible. The civil war destroyed practically everything: fauna, flora and territory. The existing national parks no longer had the function of safe guarding the local fauna, because guerrillas and local populations, did whatever they wanted to, especially killing wild animals to feed themselves. It was a massacre.

The civil war in Rwanda has certainly greatly increased ecological instability on the Virunga Mountains of such great proportions it will be difficult to heal. Under the pretext of the civil war, many mountain gorillas were secretly captured at the request of some European and American zoos. During the war, this extermination was possible because many Rwandans in order not to die of hunger devoted themselves to poaching gorillas without thinking that it was one thing to catch a small gorilla, exterminating first his family, and another thing to capture a whole family, for example, of mongooses! But the most shameful fact was that at the head of these atrocities there were not Rwandans, but ruthless European figures who saw in the civil war the opportunity to buy cheap little gorillas and then take them clandestinely, first to Tanzania and then to Europe.

The situation in this country was already serious before Dian Fossey set foot there. The great American scholar who with her courage tried to keep alive the few gorillas that were still in the Virunga Mountains on the Rwandan side, before the civil war began. The mountain gorillas recorded by Dian Fossey in 1983 numbered about seventy. In a later census, the mountain gorillas rose to 83, after the war and the situation worsened. Gorillas are not sedentary and since in this part of the country there are borders with Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, they often trespass. In Karikose Park, where Fossey mainly worked, she counted 35 gorillas and therefore about a third of their total population.

In 1981 on Mount Gahinga in the Ugandan part of the territory, the gorillas had practically disappeared, despite repeated complaints from international organisms for the conservation of animals such as the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature), the WWF (World Wild Fund) and various others. If we consider that the gorillas present on the Virunga area regardless of the state borders, all together in 1984 there were 242, that is half of those that had been counted twenty years earlier by other researchers. Before 1960 there were more than 5 thousand!

When did the carnage begin before the Civil War? It began after World War II, due to a legalized hunt by foreign hunters who easily obtained permission from local authorities by paying many thousands of dollars for headshot down and lavish shortcomings to kill them at will and to bring their trophies to Europe and North America. With the arrival of Dian Fossey things changed, but this struggle cost the poor American researcher her life. It was a drop in the ocean, but the ocean is made up of many drops and if everyone worked together, then things could change.

The Mountain Gorilla

The Mountain Gorilla is a spectacular monkey. In good conditions, a gorilla can live up to thirty years of age. An adult male can reach 160 kg in weight and about two meters in height. Recently many projects have been set up for its protection and one of the most interesting fortunately concerns the gorillas of Rwanda which live in small territories. The gorilla has a population density of 0.5 km2 and lives in the primary rainforests and also in the secondary ones between 1500 and 3500 meters above sea level constituting small family groups and with a harem social structure. Gorillas build a nest to sleep on the branches of the plants every evening and sometimes on the ground, feeding mainly on leaves, shoots, stems, fruits and flowers for about 25% of the day.

We are talking about the Mountain Gorilla, but really there are 3 subspecies of gorilla, the Mountain Gorilla (Gorilla gorilla beringei), the Western Lowland Gorilla (Gorilla gorilla gorilla), and the Eastern Lowland Gorilla (Gorilla gorilla graueri). The last two subspecies do not live in Rwanda.

Big 5

In Rwanda the 5 largest mammals in the world have returned: the elephant, the lion, the buffalo, the rhino and the leopard after the civil war they had practically disappeared. We should add to this list the gorilla, the chimpanzee and the orangutan, although the latter does not live in Africa, but in Southeast Asia.

The Gorilla, with its three subspecies, belongs to the Family of the Pongids together with the Genus Pongo (Orangutan), of which there are two species, the Pongo abelii (living in Sumatra) and the Pongo pygmaeus (living in Borneo), and the Genus Pan (Pan paniscus and Pan troglodytes) both living in Africa. Until a few years ago, in Rwanda the Big 5 were very rare; today, thanks also to the reintroduction of some of them, such as the lion, it has become possible to see them and when before it was necessary to trespass into Tanzania.

In recent years, resorts have been set up in Rwanda, thanks also to the policy of the Rwandan President Paul Kagame, in office since 2000 and re-elected several times. Since 2018 Kagame has also been President of the African Union (an office of prestige). He understood that to lift his country up again it was necessary to focus not just on agriculture, but also on tourism and technology. Then, in order to avoid the trespassing on the Rwandans National Parks by the local human population, Kagame controlled the area by building fences around: the Volcanoes National Park, on the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Akagera National Park on the border with Tanzania and the Nyungwe Forest National Park on the border with Burundi.

What is the naturalistic situation in Rwanda today?

The latest news is comforting. All the animals that belong to the so-called group of the Big 5 and a few gorillas have returned to live safely in this small African country. Of course, tourism is a double-edged sword, but the construction of equipped resorts and lodges for safarists in which obviously it is forbidden to hunt was the only way to raise the fate of Rwanda. They are luxury lodges, although very expensive, for high-profile, wealthy tourists, who are hosted in a fabulous atmosphere. Often excursions are taken by helicopters to facilitate the movement of tourists from one point to another of the parks. The Government has received criticism for this policy, but the answer has been that this way of making selection has allowed limited exploitation of the territory without however reflecting on the fact that these tourists often pollute more than uncontrolled mass tourism.

Not everything has a silver lining! Even today you can see on the edge of the Nyungwe Forest National Park tea plantations that involve fairly intense exploitation of the territory, not to mention the pollution due to the indispensable facilities for the harvesting and the presence of workers for its treatment. A fairy tale lodge with all the comforts was also built inside the Nyungwe, in an area where common chimpanzees, baboons and colobus live who often came near and collect the human waste that is dispersed in the environment, despite all the precautions of the staff. If we want to see it positively, the fact that in Rwanda there are upmarket resorts has reduced the number of poachers. Many of them were able to find an alternative for survival, by being hired as attendants in the lodges. Now, with the pandemic, their owners, all strictly foreigners, complain about the reduction of tourists in the parks, for the danger that the pandemic will spread especially among the Mountain gorillas. But when the pandemic ends, what will happen next?


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