A love of the forests inspired them to create private protected areas to help Grauer's gorillas, chimpanzees, forest elephants and other species withstand traditional threats such as habitat destruction and bushmeat hunting, as well as the war's devastation.
Today, after the conflict that killed more than 3 million people, the DRC government formally recognizes much of the territory in Vwirasihikya's campaign as protected land under the control of local communities. It is a unique story of perseverance and courage in a troubled region, and for his achievement, Vwirasihikya received the 2005 Conde Nast Traveler Environmental Steward Award.
Now in its 16th year, the award and $20,000 U.S. prize goes to "an individual who has played a significant role in protecting and enhancing the environment." Past winners have been scientists, journalists, teachers, and others, including Wangari Maathai, who received the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize and now is Kenya's environment minister.
Vwirasihikya was cited for creating the 220,000-acre (88,000-hectare) Tayna Gorilla Reserve, the DRC's first community-run nature reserve, and the Tayna Center for Conservation Biology (TCCB), the first DRC university devoted to conservation. Both are funded by Conservation International (CI) through its partnership with the Dian Fossey Gorilla International Fund (DFGFI).
"We knew we had to protect the land or we would lose the forest forever," said Vwirasihikya, a former game warden. "People here are very attached to the forest and animals. It was our initiative, not the government's, to preserve it instead of cutting it for farms or mining."
Such locally created and operated projects show the viability of international organizations support
Contact: Tom Cohen