Category Archives: Wetlands

Climate Change Education at Nature Clubs

When the ACNR team arrived back from holding a seminar at ASPESKA Secondary School Karenge (south of Kigali) last Sunday, we were tired and very happy about the day. It was the first of a series of trainings on climate change which ACNR is currently offering for its Nature Clubs and we were once again surprised by the students’ eagerness to learn and to become active for their environment.

The presentation on the causes and consequences of climatic change had to be held under slight difficulties – electricity broke down and our carefully composed PowerPoint presentation went for the birds… – but with lively participation of the club members. Their school is situated in a rural region of Rwanda, where most people live from subsistence farming and will greatly be affected by climate change, just as the ASPESKA students and their families. DSC00442_1Our group work on adaptation strategies for the school and the surrounding communities therefore landed on fertile ground and – despite language problems as many Rwandan students are not yet comfortable in English – produced a lovely creative action plan (see right) for the club.

“Our Environmental Club members need more training, lots of training, so we can learn about our environment, how to protect it and how we can have an impact. If we know many things we can be successful in our club activities.” This is what Jean-Pierre, committee member of the club ‘Amis de la Nature ASPESKA’ told us after the workshop, and with that he is quite right. Environmental Clubs exist in many Rwandan schools but a great part of them is inactive due to insufficient financial means, moral support or – most importantly – knowledge. Jean-Pierre and his club colleagues take part in the current ACNR Nature Club education program. DSC00397_1It involves the trainings on climate change and Nature Club Management as well as environmental art competitions and increased networking efforts between the clubs. All together the project is going to involve around 600 students from primary, secondary and higher education institutions, who will certainly use the chance to make their clubs more effective in nature conservation.

See below some more photos from a recent event at a Primary School Nature Club, the ‘Club Nature Coeur Joyeux’, were children were invited for educative games and a bird drawing competition.


Children playing the Migratory Bird Game


Children drawing

P1030549_1Club Coordinators, ACNR staff and the winners of the competition

Muvumba Gallery forest conservation project

Muvumba river is located in  Nyagatare district of Northern Rwanda. Along its banks the river shelters a relict gallery forest constituted mainly of Acacia kirkii (locally known as IMIKINGA). The Acacia kirkii tree is unique and does not occur anywhere else in the Great Lakes Region. The species is in balance with its environment, tolerates the frequent flooding, and maintains a humid microclimate all year round thus enabling many undergrowth species to survive. It provides habitat for many bird, amphibian and also mammal species. The Rwandan forest law provides for a mandatory 10 meters wide virgin strip to protect the banks of rivers. This is an extraordinary effort to conserve river wetlands but in the case of Muvumba River it is not enough, as the Acacia trees are threatened by extinction. The gallery forest as it stands today is threatened by human activities such as farming, settlement, firewood collection and agriculture.

The ACNR project for the conservation of Muvumba gallery forest is funded by CARPE and will be carried out between August 2009 and August 2010. It aims at enhancing the value and conservation of Muvumba relict forest and at raising awareness on its importance amongst local communities.


Muvumba gallery forest

Waterbirds of Rweru

African Fish Eagles

Theogene, Serge, Mark, Fanny and Runyambo

The ACNR team set out to conduct a waterbird assessment in Lake Rweru. The team included Mark, Runyambo, Theogene, Fanny and Serge. It was an exciting academic adventure. We waded in the waters watched the wonderful birds and did a lot of counts.

White winged Tern Chlidonias leucopterus

Lake likely to lose her Biodiversity Secrets

Local knowledge is very important. In most cases it is simple and cheap to get but is often not regarded with the seriousness it deserves. Lake kivu is one such area that has not lost her legendary and biodiversity secrets. This is the public knowledge that is half the truth and most people pretend not to know while those who think they know assume it is a secret that others don’t know!

Lake Kivu

Most of this secrets are about the formation and hence nature of the lake. Lake Kivu was formed after man had been around for sometime. There lived a king who had many wives. The youngest wife, by the name Nyiransibura happened to be naughty and disrespectiful to the king. One day, when it was Nyiransibura’s turn to serve the King, she refused and the King decided to beat her up. She ran away and as the King tried to chase her, she dropped a tin in which she collected her urine and usaully carried wherever she went. The urine spilled all over creating a barrier between her and the king. The urine did not dry up but became a big lake, the current Lake Kivu. I think I don’t doubt this legend-the lake is unique with a lot of methane and carbon dioxide. Even under conditions of bubling methane gas, some fish species still exist!

Science will tell us otherwise. But science alone has not been able to conserve the lake and its biodiversity as traditional and cultural beliefs did for many years. According to Professor Robert Hecky (University of Michigan), lake Kivu is one of the most dangerous lakes in Africa due to their “lake overturn” tendencies. The lake contains large amounts of carbon dioxide and hence likely to overturn. During a lake overturn, all creatures in the lake will be wiped out and huge deposits of vegetation will be swept into the lake. This has not happened for lake Kivu despite all the pre-disposing factors. Unlike Nyos and Monoun lakes in Cameroon, which also have a lot of carbon dioxide and overturned recently, Lake Kivu is far much bigger (more than 2000 times lake Nyos). The Nyiragongo Volcanic mountain erupted in 2002 throwing a lot of lava into lake Kivu. This would most likely displace the carbon and cause an overturn but it fortunately didn’t.

People whose livelihoods depend directly on the lake.

“Their lack of appropriate information is a major threat to Biodiversity”

Apart from these natural threats, the Lake Kivu area has lot biodiversity secrets. It has 26 fish species It is a breeding haven for many bird species. Most of breeding areas are on the same islands and peninsula. Traditionally, people were never allowed to live or do undertake any economic activities on these small islands. But now, there are people constructing houses and farming on the Islands. The traditional governments (chiefdoms) were able to enforce the legislation against this kind of encroachment but the modern government has failed. People had a way of respecting and benefiting from nature then but now people destroy nature through overexploitation and habitat destruction. There have been businessmen who have been licensed to construct tourist hotels on the shores of the lake and this work is clearing the important habitats for birds around the lake.

A tourist hotel under construction on shores of lake Kivu

One of the birds that are threatened here is the Grey crowned cranes (balearica regurolum). This bird is celebrated as a national symbol in Uganda. In Kenya it is taboo to touch it. In Rwanda, people are catching the cranes from the wild and keeping them at home as pets. At home they never breed! Around Lake Kivu, the bird is a major trade commodity. There is a breed of poachers who now catch the Cranes and sell them to people who eat them. According to ACNR recent survey, an adult crane is costing about RwF 50,000 (about $ 100.00). A young one goes for RwF 20,000.00. The practice of domesticating grey crowned cranes is rampant throughout Rwanda and if not stopped, the bird species may disappear completely.

This frustrated crane is one of the many domesticated ones in Kigali

ACNR has started advocating for the release of any captive cranes into the wild and a stop to their hunting for commercial purposes. This will be supported by the many nature clubs and site support groups they are helping establish and support around the country. The Saint Marie secondary school nature clubs is on the shores of Lake Kivu and ACNR is requesting for support from all stakeholders (community members, Conservation NGOs, well wishers and the Government) Enoch, Mark, Claude and Theoneste of ACNR were here a few weeks ago talking to the students and the school adminsitration with a vies to create awareness amongst the students. There is an urgent need for follow-up visits to strengthen the capacity of the nature club in conserving this important habitat.

AFRICA: Climate Change will affect us Too!

Is Africa Prepared to deal with impacts of Climate Change?

No will be the correct answer to this question. Africa in general is overwhelmed with other problems. HIV AIDS, poverty reduction and political instability and general governance issues seem to take centre stage in Africa. To a large extent, it has been forgotten that all these have a direct relationship to the environment and impacts of climate change may make the situation worse. Sustainable economic development can not be achieved without realizing and incorporating the ecological component in all the strategies employed to deal with the problems developing economies and the world in general face.

However, hope exist! Concerned stake holders have realized the need to be actively involved in designing strategies to deal with the likely impacts of climate change. Using scientific modelling, they have modelled the likely climate change over the next 100 years. The situation is seriously worrying and a lot of effort is required to deal with it.Many species are projected to suffer a reduction in range size and a small proportion may go extinct completely.

Regal Sunbird, an Albertine Rift endemic and a species predicted to move altitudinally due to climate change

One of the most important things now is concerted efforts in scientific research, involving african conservationists/researchers and then followed by policy makers and implementers. Such (pioneering) research to help biodiversity survive the impacts of climate change across Africa was announced at a workshop in held in Kigali, Rwanda between 9th and 11th July 2008 and hosted by the Association pour la Conservation de la Nature au Rwanda (BirdLife in Rwanda) on behalf of the BirdLife Africa Partnership. The workshop brought together the BirdLife Africa Partnership, RSPB, Durham University (UK), Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and was funded by the MacArthur Foundation.

The project mapped the current and future distributions of all bird species on mainland Africa by using climate change models to determine the distance and direction of shifts for each species in the future.

A particular emphasis of the work was understanding how well the Important Bird Areas (IBAs) network in Africa can sustain the continent’s bird with future climate change. Dr Julius Arinaitwe, BirdLife International’s Regional IBA Manager for Africa, said “There are very few plans to protect biodiversity from the effects of climate change anywhere in the world. BirdLife International is leading the drive to develop strategies to protect our unique wildlife for future generations.”

“BirdLife International is leading the drive to develop strategies to protect our unique wildlife for future generations” -Dr Julius Arinaitwe, BirdLife’s Regional IBA Manager for Africa

More detailed analysis is being carried out within the Albertine Rift region of Africa to identify actions that will increase the resilience of the IBA network to future climate change.

The workshop in Rwanda brings together governments, academic institutions, NGOs and local community from Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, all of which are included within the Albertine Rift mountains complex.

Dr Steve Willis, a lecturer at Durham University’s Environmental Change Research Group, and a leading expert on climate change modelling commented: “In the Albertine Rift, our models project that species will move upwards altitudinally, and clearly the higher up a mountain you go, the less land area there is. We need to start acting now to prevent these unique species disappearing altogether.”

The main challenge is to try to protect the birds where they are now and at the same time to help them to follow a shifting climate. We need to start planning their conservation in areas where they currently do not even occur. The problems are huge but we cannot simply sit back and watch our natural heritage disappear,

Important Bird Areas are essential for the livelihoods of many people in Africa, and are the backbone of the tourism industry, a major source of revenue for African economies. Most of these areas are also key reservoirs for water and pollinators and so their protection is an important component of adaptation to climate change in other fields such as agriculture, demography, energy, and urbanisation.

3-D representation – looking north “up” the Albertine Rift – of the modelled distribution of Regal Sunbird Nectarinia regia for a) the present; b) 2025, and; c) 2085. The red indicates areas with suitable environmental condition for the species. The grey scale background is a digital elevation, with light grey representing higher altitudes.

Working with communities to conserve IBAs

Albertine Rift/Rwanda

Bite…Muraho? Bite (read ‘bee teh’) is the general greeting in this wonderful, small East African country. This means the country has only one local language (Kinyarwanda) and I belief this makes it the largest language group in Africa, if not in the world. This is totally different from PNG where there are more than a thousand languages dividing a population of about 6 million people into as many ethnic groups.

ACNR with support from BirdLife international and regional partners has been working on the establishment and gazetting of Important Bird Areas (IBAs). The IBAs are areas with unique characteristics and support the existence of bird species. The criteria for qualifying an area as an IBA has been developed by BirdLife international.

One of such site support groups is the Inyange site support group. This group, living along the wetlands of Nyabarongo, is the most effective. The Nyabarongo wetlands have been identified as one of the most special IBAs in the great lakes region. The wetland runs through the country of Rwanda from the west, through the central Kigali city province to the southern region where it joins the Akagera marshland before extending to Tanzania. The Nyabarongo wetland which drains the wetland joins the Akagera River before draining into Lake Victoria. These two rivers form the greatest proportion of the water entering Lake Victoria (46%) during the wet seasons. By extension, the wetland is believed to be a major source of the River Nile.

ACNR is working with communities to establish community based organisations to manage the environment for sustainable livelihoods. Such organisations include SSGs and school based nature clubs. Mugesera (Bugesera) and St. Marie (Karongi) are examples.

They employ a strategy of empowering these groups to establish sustainable livelihoods based on enterprises using local natural resources.

They work with the CBOs to create awareness aimed at strengthening environmental education programmes and inform the communities on the value and wise use of natural resources, incorporating indigenous knowledge and local value systems.

They lobby the appropriate service providers including marketing and research institutions to work with the CBOs to make their enterprises sustainable.

Inyange SSG has been very active. Recently they have demonstrated that resources in the wetlands can be protected for improved livelihoods. ACNR has identified a number of areas in which the IBA site support group needs help to be fully funtional and well resourced. Let’s read about their general activities in the next issues…. : , , , , , , , ,