John received Prince William Award of Tusk Conservation Awards 2016

On November 30th, 2016 John Kahekwa received Prince William Award of Tusk Conservation Awards 2016. It was a historical moment for all the POPOF members and collaborators in both local and international communities. This gives us a lot of encouragement to move forward towards our goals!

Prince William with nominees and Sir David Attenborough/ John on the right end [Image by courtesy of Tusk Awards/ Getty Images]

John (right) and the other finalists with Sir David Attenborough and Prince William
[Image by courtesy of Tusk Awards/ Getty Images]

We present here John’s speech for Tusk Conservation Awards at Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Your Royal Highness, Your Excellences, Ladies and Gentlemen,
It really is a great honor to receive this Prince William Award for Conservation, and thank you to Tusk for this recognition.

It is fantastic to be surrounded by people who have a passion for conservation and working hard to protect our most precious wild life.

The award comes at a vital time for the Grauer gorillas, which have recently been added to the IUCN Red List of Critically Endangered Species. And it comes at an important time for my country, the Democratic Republic of Congo. Few visitors come to the Congo, either unable to get a visa or afraid of the violence they see on the news. But this is not the country I see. Where others see misery, I see hope. Where others see desperation, I see a generation ready to rise.

I want to ensure that my children will have the opportunity to experience, as I do, the magic of spending time with the gorillas. And now I hold the same hope for the Prince’s children, too-that in a decade to come, the Congo and the Gorillas will be safe enough for them to visit and see the fruits of their award.

I dedicate this award first to my colleagues, the rangers who remain active in the field, and second to my partners within the Pole Pole Foundation with whom I have worked for two and half decades. Lastly I must dedicate the award to my wife Odette, who works so hard to assist me in everything I do, and to my children, who are studying to becoming conservationists so that they may take over the helm to protect the Grauer gorillas, in the coming decades.

I am sure that this award will play a great role in supporting our projects so that we may continue to protect our beloved gorillas for future generations.

Merci Beaucoup et que Dieu vous bénisse tous.

Tusk Conservation Awards 2016 Highlights

Please also see,
Tusk Conservation Awards

Speech by Prince William/ The Telegraph

Pupils’ participation in tree planting is essential

Last September, POPOF’s animators visited among communities of the KBNP mainly in Miti area. POPOF interviewed 456 people (men, women and young), 306 of them selected the tree seedlings to be planted again. The 150 people selected for animal breeding.

POPOF opted for the majority and bought seeds, materials for the nursery, 1 man from the community gave a contribution of his field to install the tree nursery which is a good thing.

POPOF Tree nursery September 2016

POPOF Tree nursery September 2016

In the 1990s, POPOF used to work with villagers to grow seedlings, now things have improved from mid-2000 to today. Now POPOF has the pupils from its own Anga-POPOF-Miti Forestry School and these trained pupils from the 10th, 11th and 12th grades including the POPOF’s Global Friends Club can grow trees by planting and transplanting in the fields of inhabitants living near the Park.

The long-term goal of POPOF is to educate the new generation so they get familiar with the nature, love it and improve the life in communities around the park.

Anga pupils rising flag

Anga pupils raising flag

So, it is our big pride to see these pupils of different age like this who participate this important activity. This is one of our strength for the conflict solution among locals who face the conservation issue of the natural resources of the DRC.

Equations to distinguish gorilla nests and to know size of gorilla groups

Long term observations by Author and trainer:
John Kahekwa Munihuzi

Four great ape species inhabit Africa and Asia. These are: Chimpanzees, Orangutans, Gorillas and Bonobos. With the exception of Orangutans, whose habitat is in Asia, the three other species live in Africa, with the largest populations in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The four species of great ape construct night nests; some members in the trees (upper) and other members on the ground (lower). This article is based on daily, long term observations focused on the nesting and the size of the groups of the Grauer Gorillas, (Gorilla beringei graueri) ranging in the Kahuzi Biega National Park (KBNP), particularly groups in the highland sector.

[Read more in PDF format]

The Kahuzi-Biega National Park: an island in the middle of an ocean of poverty -What is the future?-

[You can also see read this article in PDF format. ]

There is a reason for hope …….
(Jane Goodall, JGI)

There will never be longevity for wildlife as long as surrounding communities are not involved in the protection and conservation.
(John Kahekwa, POPOF)

In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the Kahuzi Biega National Park (KBNP) was created in order to protect the Eastern Lowland Gorillas (ELG), which is threatened by extinction. It has two sectors: the highland sector, which was originally created in 1970; and the lowland sector, where the park was extended in 1975. KBNP was the first national park to offer gorilla tourism in the early 1970s, but conflict and poverty in the region since then has led to encroachment of the park boundaries and a sharp decline in tourism.

The management of KBNP falls under the remit of ICCN (the Congolese Wildlife Service), which employs staff to protect the park, prevent poaching and support tourism. These staff work hard, but they are only a small force tasked with protecting an enormous area, making conservation work difficult. Communities around the area are heavily reliant on the KBNP for their livelihoods; collecting firewood, building materials, mineral extractions and bush meat from within the park. The men and women – both young and old – that engaged in these activities were often arrested and put in the park’s jail and forced to pay fines. This was in spite of the high levels of poverty among communities involved in these activities.

John Kahekwa Munihuzi born from the community in the highland sector of the KBNP was one of these rangers employed by ICCN as a teenager in the early 1980s to protect the park and learn more about the gorillas to habituate them for tourism. Tracking the gorillas each day, he was able to develop identification methods for 155 gorillas living in 6 groups, as well as the changing human pressures on the park; these pressures were at their most intense in the war years between 1996 and 2003. During this period, half the populations of gorillas in KBNP were killed for bush meat, trophies and selling live babies, as well as the entire elephant population in the park was killed. Before the war, and since its end, pressures reduced slightly, but many still remain, driven by the poverty of the surrounding communities and their resentment due to their sense of exclusion from the park.

John Kahekwa was shocked by these conflicts between the park and surrounding communities and wanted to better understand why they were happening. He interviewed more than 450 people from surrounding communities and kept hearing the same reply, “Empty stomachs have no ears, the KBNP is not for us, but rather belongs to the wardens, rangers and overseas organizations. We are poor and jobless and have no other way to live without entering the park, our former homeland”. John asked these people whether giving those jobs would fill their stomachs and open their ears to protecting the park; the answer was a universal “YES”.

John was determined to help these communities. In 1986, he used the tips he was given by tourists he had taken to visit gorillas, and bought t-shirt souvenirs to sell to tourists. This business worked well, and he was able to generate more revenue from a small part he acted in the film Gorillas in the Mist, BBC and ABC Sport documentaries and afterwards delivering lectures about KBNP’s gorillas. He managed to save USD $6,000, and – in partnership with fellow ranger colleagues and members of the local community – founded the Pole Pole Foundation (POPOF) in 1992. The vision of the foundation was to use an inclusive model to work for conservation and sustainable development of KBNP and the surrounding communities.

POPOF was welcomed by communities and set about researching where the main human pressures were placed on the park. Almost a 90% of people are living in poverty and dependent on resources from within the park for their survival. Also a 75% rate of illiteracy, and that the park totally lacked buffer zones between communities’ farmland and the park boundaries. To address this, POPOF delivered environmental education programmes, economic development schemes and tree planting activities.

The foundation has continued to expand its reach since its inception more than two decades ago, and now delivers projects within six key themes:

1) The contribution to the habituation of new gorilla groups in the park and the gorilla members’ identification for the tourism.
2) Tree planting schemes, which have led to the planting of over 4 million trees in four groupings surrounding the park, engaged women in tree planting through its “women to face climate change” programme, and created a multiple use buffer zone between communities and the park. When trees often mature, they are sold for building materials and charcoal to provide income for families. Since the creation of this scheme, illegal deforestation has been reduced in areas POPOF acts.
3) Livestock programmes to reduce bush meat hunting. The foundation distributed pigs, goats and guinea pigs to families; families used these animals for meat and also sold livestock offspring to create an income. Bush meat poaching in the park declined as a result of these programmes.
4) POPOF has also worked with an often neglected group, the Twa pygmies. The foundation provided sewing machines and trained Twa women to make clothes and ranger uniforms. They were the first foundation to create a development project for Twa women although a fund was limited to maintain the project.
5) POPOF has also trained ex-poachers in wood-carving. Men and women involved in the scheme carve gorillas in different poses and some carvings are sold as souvenirs in the visitors centre at Tshivanga the KBNP’s headquarters.
6) POPOF has launched an education programme to inspire a young generation to better understand the importance and value of the park and work to protect it. They created the Anga-POPOF-Miti education programme, which is formed of three schools; a kindergarten, elementary and secondary school. Students in the school undertake the conventional DRC syllabus and in addition carry out tree-nursery training and seedling distribution. The school has graduated many students, some of whom – if their families have the means – have progressed to university.
7) After winning the 2013 Whitley Fund for Nature Award, POPOF is now expanding its programmes into Itebero the lowland sector of the park, responding to the needs of communities there for fish pools to provide livelihoods and reduce poaching.

A day of harvesting fish from pools in Itebero-KBNP’s lowland sector in order to fight against poverty and bush meat consuming by POPOF.

POPOF has addressed many of the threats to the park, but other threats remain, and the foundation does not have the necessary funding required to implement all the projects that are required to address these threats. ICCN and International Conservation NGOs are working to address many of the threats facing the park and are running some very effective programmes in some areas; however, large human pressures continue to afflict the park each year. For example, the eco-corridor between the highland and lowland sections is particularly affected, with 95% of the area settled by rich farmers. A significant weakness of these projects is a lack of trust by local communities. ICCN has authority over the park, but lacks authority over surrounding communities. International Conservation NGOs bring large budgets to fund projects, but local communities do not trust them in the same way as they do local Conservation NGOs, and these international Conservation NGOs rarely work with local conservation organisations to implement their projects.

We all have a duty to protect the KBNP as a world heritage site and other protected areas of DRC, as well as the communities surrounding those. The only way we will achieve this is by increasing collaboration between organisations. We must form partnerships between ICCN, international Conservation NGOs, local Conservation NGOs and communities. Together, we can fight the poverty surrounding the park and in the process protect KBNP and other areas protecting the sub specie of the Grauer gorillas known as “the forgotten gorillas”, the flora and fauna within. This is the best, and indeed the only, way to protect the most wonderful World Heritage Sites of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

To know more about conflicts between Park managers/communities around and resolutions. Please email to:
or call:
+243 9 98 89 95 98.