In August 2019, a group of mountain gorillas from the Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda crossed over to Uganda at the time when relations between the two countries were tense.
While the movement of Hirwa Mountain Gorilla family was not something extraordinary in the Virunga Massif which covers Rwanda, Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), since mountain gorillas normally move between the three countries, some sections of the media in Uganda picked on the story to make it sound like some sort of defection from Rwanda.
Now Rwanda Development Board (RDB) says the family of 17 has returned to Rwanda nearly 9 months after crossing over to the neighboring country in a much publicized move which was laced with political undertones.
“RDB would like to inform the general public that the Hirwa group of mountain gorillas that crossed over to Uganda’s Mgahinga National Park on 28th August 2019 has returned to Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda,”
“The Hirwa family was sighted and identified by gorilla trackers on 15thApril 2020. Eleven (11) members of the family of seventeen (17) that crossed over to Uganda returned,” said RDB.
Unfortunately, RDB said four of the members were reported to have died from a lightning strike on February 3, 2020 while two succumbed to intestinal obstruction and respiratory infection respectively,” RDB announced on Saturday.
Sadly, the government body said an infant that was born in January 2020 in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park also passed away due to intestinal obstruction of the colon.
Hirwa is among many other mountain gorilla families that range within the Virunga Massif ecosystem, comprised of three regional parks: Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda.
RDB said movement of gorillas within the massif is a regular occurrence with reasons for cross border movements including seasonal food availability as well as the interaction between various groups. Inter-group competition for food and reproduction are also significant factors determining gorilla home range changes over time.
Following the politicizing of the development last year, RDB said that the migration of mountain Gorillas into the Ugandan territory is normal.
Clare Akamanzi, the CEO of RDB said at the time that the movement of the mountain gorillas was normal and it is a continuous pattern for gorillas within Virunga Park to cross.
As the Hirwa family returns to the Volcanoes National Park, RDB says it is still normal.
“Well, for us, we have always known the conservation reality, that mountain gorillas will freely move within their natural habitat- the Virunga massif across our three countries. They know no borders. That’s why we established the Greater Virunga Transboundary Collaboration (GVTC) mechanism to coordinate such movements, standardize conservation practices and share revenues when another country makes money off a visiting group,” Akamanzi said.
Akamanzi further said; “If any country has concerns or issues to raise, this is the correct body to address them and in Rwanda, we respect this institutional framework, which we use whenever the need arises.”
Apparently, the information Uganda provided to Rwanda in regard to the stay of Hirwa familly in Mgahinga was not complete.
“For example, Uganda informed us that there were no tourists that visited Hirwa while there and therefore no money to share, but we had contradictory information and we used the GVTC platform to raise these concerns which they are looking into,” Akamanzi told KT Press.
She said Rwanda has historically hosted the most gorillas crossing from neighbouring countries, which is why the Greater Virunga area was established and a revenue-sharing scheme introduced.
The Greater Virunga Transboundary Collaboration (GVTC), was established in 2015 between the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Rwanda and Uganda, as a framework of programmes, plans and activities to conserve a network of transboundary protected Areas in Greater Virunga Landscape (GVL).
It was established as an important program for endemic, threatened and migratory species, including lions, hippopotamus, chimpanzees, golden monkey, leopards, Okapi, golden cats, crown eagles, buffaloes, lesser flamingos, vultures, Rwenzori duikers, sitatunga, mountain gorillas, and elephants.
RDB said the wild animals move from one country to another or have a ranging area (home range) covering two or three countries together because of various reasons.