Saving Nature to Save Ourselves

Jun 5th, 2018 | By | Category: Biodiversity/Conservation

By Suzanne York.

There was some good news on the nature front, just in time for World Environment Day – the number of mountain gorillas in the Virunga Massif in central Africa has increased to above 1,000. This represents a rise of 25% since 2010 of a critically endangered species.

One of the silverbacks of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park [photo: Suzanne York]

One of the silverbacks of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park [photo: Suzanne York]

It is a sign of hope that conservation efforts are having a positive effect.

This population of gorillas reside in Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda.   The very fact that numbers increased in Virunga National Park – plagued by violence against people and nature – is cause for celebration and hope.

Just last month, Virunga National Park had to close to tourism, after six park rangers were killed in April and two tourists kidnapped in May.  Sadly, more than 175 rangers have been killed trying to protect the park.  So while it is tremendous news to have an increase in mountain gorillas, there must be more support for those on the front lines protecting them and the park. And this also includes greater investment in the surrounding communities, that are mostly poor and reliant on the park’s vast natural resources for survival.

The park, in fact, is the poster child for the effort to protect the world’s remaining endangered species.  The survival of threatened animals is dependent upon bringing people out of poverty and assisting them in meeting their basic needs.  Otherwise, people will do what they have to do to survive.

Conservation Through Public Health, based in Uganda, has had great success in protecting the mountain gorillas of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, along with empowering local communities.  Bwindi is home to approximately 400 gorillas. CTPH reports that “adoption of family planning practices had increased from 20 per cent in 2007 to 60 per cent by 2013 – well above the national average of 30 per cent.”  There has also been a decrease in cases of human-wildlife conflict.

Ida, a woman from the local community of Buhoma, near Bwindi Impenetrable National Park [photo: Suzanne York]

Ida, a woman from the local community of Buhoma, near Bwindi Impenetrable National Park [photo: Suzanne York]

CTPH also works in the DRC and the Virunga Massif, bringing its community-based health plus conservation approach to needed areas.  In particular, they are focused on implementing their Village Health and Conservation Teams, which have been successful in the Bwindi area.

Linking environmental protection with human rights and health is a valuable approach to development, one that better supports communities and protects nature.

The Population, Health and Environment model, or PHE, is an integrated solution linking family planning, public health, and conservation that recognizes the interconnectedness of people and their local environment. It is an acknowledgement of the direct links between the reproductive health of individuals (both men and women); the health of communities living in remote biodiversity-rich areas; and the health of the natural environment, or ecosystem, upon which all life depends. PHE can greatly strengthen community resilience to environmental problems.

For more on why it is important to link human rights – especially voluntary family planning – with conservation, please see this article, Why Family Planning is Good for People and the Planet, posted by the Rewilding Institute.

World Environment Day, and truly every day, requires attending to the needs of both nature and people if we are to have a healthy and thriving planet for all.

Suzanne York is Director of Transition Earth.

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