Ian Munanura

My connection to Nyungwe National Park is profound. My first encounter with Nyungwe was on a Sunday morning in April 1998, when I was traveling on a busfrom Butare to Cyangugu town to visit a relative. No doubt forest environments have been fascination of mine since childhood, but nothing prepared me for myfirst encounter with such a massive forest. I was a young college student and all I could do at the time was gaze at such beauty. Out of luck or synchronicity, our bus broke down at Gisakura near the Wildlife Conservation Society/PCFN office on our way back from Cyangugu. While seeking shelter, I met Michel Masozera, the PCFN director at the time, and I used the opportunity to learn about Nyungwe from him and asked if I could be a volunteer. Since I didn’ thave any ecology and forestry experience, he offered me an opportunity to teach English to his tourist guides. I have been there ever since, working first as aPCFN director, WCS country director and later as the director of a USAID funded tourism and biodiversity conservation project until mid 2010. My time in Nyungwe over the years is filled with too many good memories to recount.However, one that I have always cherished is about our hardworking anddedicated field staff.  In pursuit for a National Park status from the government, the staff and I walked for a month around the boundary of Nyungwe forest to collect geographic coordinates. It was a tough and nerve-wracking exercise. Upon our return, the field staff walked for three hours from home to come to work the next day. Without such a dedicated field staff, the Nyungwe National Park we see today would be very different. Among the challenges we encountered during my time at the Park was the growing demand for Coltan, amineral that literally brought large groups of neighboring residents to mine in Nyungwe. We had to shift our focus from other important conservation programs to protect the Nyungwe from a wave of local miners in the park. Another key challenge at the time was the forest reserve status that did not allow for the prosecution of forest offenders. To some extent, this became an incentive forforest offenders because they knew they will be released overnight once caught.With hard work, we managed to overcome this problem by successfully pursuing the status upgrade of Nyungwe from a Forest Reserve to a National Park. As a National Park, Nyungwe forest had the appropriate legal framework that enabled us to maintain its integrity.

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