Uganda: conserving Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and reducing local poverty

Despite interventions aimed at improving the livelihoods of communities in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park in Uganda, the illegal use of the park's resources continued. This IIED project aimed to better understand who is carrying out the unauthorised use of resources and why, so that interventions can be more effective in the future.

2013 - 2016
Phil Franks

Principal researcher (biodiversity), Natural Resources

Conservation, communities and equity
A programme of work showing how IIED is building capacity to understand and implement equitable conservation and enhance community voice in conservation policymaking
Tracking Gorillas in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Uganda. Photo: YouTuT

Tracking Gorillas in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Uganda (Photo: copyright YouTuT)

Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park in south-west Uganda is an important area for biodiversity. Crucially, it’s the one and only home to Uganda’s population of highly-endangered Mountain Gorillas who face extinction. According to the African Wildlife Foundation, there are fewer than 900 individual mountain gorillas living in the wild. Recent results from Bwindi’s last census show the park is home to 400 gorillas – close to half of the world’s mountain gorilla population.

When the national park was set up by an act of parliament in 1991, it caused high levels of conflict and resistance from local people who became excluded from the area and its resources. As a result, in the years that followed, a number of ‘integrated conservation and development’ (ICD) interventions were carried out to reduce conflict by improving the livelihoods of communities living around Bwindi National Park. For example, activities such as tourism bring in significant amounts of revenue and also provide employment opportunities.  

An assessment carried out in 2010 that looked at ICD strategies in Uganda, including in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park, confirmed that linking local people to a resource that generated a steady stream of benefits increased their willingness to manage and protect that resource over the long-term. The study also showed that community attitudes to the parks have improved greatly since these interventions began. For instance, local people were more willing to be involved in park activities, such as fire control activities, and were less likely to be involved in illegal activities in the park. The projects also resulted in improved dialogue between community members and staff involved in managing the park. 

But there was inconclusive evidence that providing alternative livelihoods was an effective strategy for conserving natural resources and alleviating poverty, and the illegal use of the park’s natural resources continues. Download the full report: Development AND Gorillas? Assessing fifteen years of integrated conservation and development in south-western Uganda.  

This three-year project aimed to improve the effectiveness of integrated conservation and development (ICD) interventions by better understanding who continues the unauthorised use of Bwindi National park’s natural resources and why they do so. It was the first major initiative of the Ugandan Poverty and Conservation Learning Group (U-PCLG).

The project combined a programme of research with building local capacity for policy advocacy. The project aimed to improve:

  • Research capabilities for evaluating the success and limitations of integrated conservation and development (ICD) activities
  • The impacts of both the development and conservation work by more effectively targeting the ICD interventions to the people who are most affected by the loss of resources associated with the park
  • National and local policy on protected area management so that it takes better account of the needs of poor people living around the park, and
  • National and local policy to ensure financial resources are allocated to achieve conservation and development priorities.