It was a proud day for Pierre Kakule Vwirasihikya. Standing before 50 students in a remote region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the conservationist spoke of hope, overcoming the DRC’s political instability, and celebrating a milestone in the country's eastern landscape.
"We are preparing for the inevitability of peace," Kakule told the first graduating class of the Tayna Center for Conservation Biology (TCCB). "Our country will soon be in the hands of these new students who are ready to ensure that our resources are used in a sustainable way and our communities can develop economically."
With newly awarded, state-sanctioned Associate’s Degrees in conservation and biodiversity studies, TCCB graduates are now returning to their communities to work as field researchers, rangers, wardens, and protected area managers. In return, their families are converting large tracts of traditional community lands into protected reserves to be managed by the new conservationists.
"These graduates are such a positive force for their country’s future," said Conservation International (CI) President Russell A. Mittermeier, who presided over the March 14 graduation ceremony. "They are now qualified to manage Congo's valuable biodiversity – its tropical forests and wildlife – to help local communities that have endured so much hardship in the past decade."
"Few people realize that tropical forest destruction contributes at least 20 percent* of the total carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which is more emissions than all the world’s cars and trucks," Mittermeier added. "These young conservationists will be contributing to the well-being of their communities and the world by managing and protecting Congo's forests."
At the ceremony, Mittermeier announced that CI’s Global Conservation Fund (GCF) has secured USD $100,000 to further support the school. CI is making the university its highest priority for sustainable future funding in its Africa and Madagascar field program.
The Tayna Gorilla Reserve
Creating the nation’s first formally accredited conservation university is one of many milestones transforming this part of the DRC.
Kakule, a former national park warden, envisioned and led the creation of a community-run gorilla reserve to protect the region’s threatened species. The university was established shortly thereafter to encourage and educate a new generation of conservationists in the DRC. In 2006, President Joseph Kabila issued a decree making TCCB the nation's first community-run university licensed to confer three-year degrees in higher education.
Local non-governmental organizations, in a federation of community-based nature reserves, founded the school in 2003. Villagers constructed the university buildings, including three large classrooms, a computer laboratory, a dormitory, and a library. The university now bustles with nearly 300 students. CI and the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International (DFGFI) provided scholarships for 67 of those students for their first three years.
In 2005, Kakule received the Conde Nast Traveler Environment Award for igniting positive change in the region. With that award money, donations from DFGFI staff, and local community aid, the Tanya Gorilla Reserve Project team was able to build a 28-bed hospital, an orphanage, a primary school, and a community radio station near the TCCB. There is hope that development aid will begin to reach these communities as international aid workers, who previously deemed the region unsafe, return.
Supporting Positive Change in the Region
CI and the DFGFI received $2.8 million in United States Agency for International Development (USAID) funds in 2003 to realize Kakule’s vision for the TCCB and to support the landscape-wide community conservation program being implemented by the local NGO federation.
GCF provided more than $1 million to support the Maiko-Tayna-Kahuzi Biega-Itombwe Landscape. Pfizer, Inc. also donated more than $1 million worth of medicines for the DFGFI Ecosystem Health Program and a unique partnership with the Jane Goodall Institute to rehabilitate medical clinics throughout the region.
Support has also financed plans for additional community reserve programs in the DRC, including two new reserves to protect gorillas, chimpanzees, forest elephants, okapis, and other species. In a unique program with the government, the NGO federation is creating new protected areas between Kahuzi-Biega and Maiko National Parks to protect Grauer's gorillas, also known as eastern lowland gorillas. There are plans to create six more reserves in the next two years.
*CI regularly reassesses our assumptions and conclusions to ensure they are consistent with the most current and reliable data sources available so that we are delivering accurate and up-to-date information. Accordingly, in December 2009, we updated our estimates related to global greenhouse gas emissions to reflect the best and most current science. We now estimate that 16% of greenhouse gas emissions result from deforestation and logging.
See our deforestation, logging and GHG emissions factsheet (PDF - 2.7KB) for details and data sources.