Integration of the Batwa cultural values to save world mountain gorillas at Bwindi using GAPA

Published: 03 July 2023
Last edited: 03 July 2023
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World mountain gorillas are threatened due to subsistence and commercial sources of livelihoods by the community. Before the gazettement of Bwindi in 1991, Batwa depended on Bwindi resources as their home which they lost after gazettement. As a result, they pose a threat to the most desired resources - medicinal plants and bush meat. Through a systematic assessment on governance and identification of priority actions, protected area managers have recognised the underlying governance complexities and identified a cultural values approach to achieve sustainable livelihoods of Batwa community and conservation of Bwindi. Because of the assessment, we have organised the Batwa plant indigenous trees in the community, based on their traditional values and indigenous knowledge to meet their subsistence needs and generate income through ecotourism and research. This is hoped to create a social fence against poaching and reduce pressure on Bwindi protected resources.


East and South Africa
Scale of implementation
Forest ecosystems
Tropical evergreen forest
Access and benefit sharing
Biodiversity mainstreaming
Gender mainstreaming
Indigenous people
Poaching and environmental crime
Protected and conserved areas governance
Science and research
Traditional knowledge
World Heritage
Species Conservation and One Health Interventions
Species Monitoring and Research
One Health
Good governance of landscapes
Wildlife trade and human-wildlife conflicts
Land and Forest degradation
Loss of Biodiversity
Lack of alternative income opportunities
Changes in socio-cultural context
Poor governance and participation
Sustainable development goals
SDG 1 – No poverty
SDG 3 – Good health and well-being
SDG 5 – Gender equality
SDG 10 – Reduced inequalities
SDG 11 – Sustainable cities and communities
SDG 13 – Climate action
SDG 15 – Life on land
Aichi targets
Target 1: Awareness of biodiversity increased
Target 11: Protected and conserved areas
Target 18: Traditional knowledge


Bwindi Impenetrable National Park - Southern Sector, Uganda
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Environmental challenges

Protected area managers had not understood the governance complexities at Bwindi Mgahinga Conservation Area (BMCA) which have led to poaching incidents resulting in biodiversity loss. One of the outstanding complexities has been failure to recognise the Batwa cultural values as a pathway to promote sustainable livelihoods and conservation. 


Social and economic challenges

There has been limited attendance of park meetings and  activities by Batwa and local communities. This is due to resentment by local communities caused by crop and livestock losses by wild animals. Furthermore, the Batwa indigenous people have limited options to livelihood sources due to the underprivileged position they have in society and the prejudice by other non-Batwa communities. This discrimination limits prioritisation of their forest linked livelihoods options.



Batwa indigenous people- These are traditionally known as forest people who used to live in tropical forests 

Non-Batwa local people- These include Bakiga and Bafumbira communities

Management and staff of Uganda Wildlife Authority


How do the building blocks interact?

The governance assessment exercise (block 1) created a basis for the integrated action planning (block 2). The governance assessment used a multi stakeholder engagement process from the preparation stage to the action planning stage/taking action. The selection of actors was purposive as earlier identified in planning and preparation of the assessment. The action planning was participatory in nature and various stakeholders identified priority action areas and took responsibility for their shares in terms of implementation of the action areas. The integrated action planning involved grouping of actions as local actions and policy related actions. It is evident that the governance assessment results created a basis for priority actions. If action areas are implemented, the governance situation of Bwindi Mgahinga Conservation Area will improve and the governance assessment will therefore be meaningful.


There has been a great appreciation from stakeholders of the linkage between culture, nature and livelihoods. The assessment brought to light governance complexities which then also created accountability for all stakeholders. A new project focusing on planting indigenous trees was developed and funded by the International Tree Foundation where a community pocket forest buffer to Bwindi has been established. Linking the Batwa’s culture to nature conservation and livelihoods is reconnecting them to nature and reigniting their conservation values. Batwa are hoped to be anti-poaching scouts by providing a social fence to poaching incidents and this reduces pressure on Bwindi resources. Poaching has reduced from 60% to 30% and no Mutwa has been found poaching in the last 12 months. The Batwa have started making money through leading tourists and researchers on identification of indigenous trees, especially herbal medicine.



My name is Jovanisi Nyiragasigwa a Mutwa female elder. I am the Chairperson of the tree planting and resource committee. I lead other 12 Batwa that have consistently collected wildlings from the park and planted trees on community land. As the Batwa, we were neglected but thanks to Dr. Medard Twinamatsiko who led a governance assessment that resulted into the recognition of the cultural values and indigenous knowledge that we have as Batwa people who used to live in the forest. Medard has become like our father. The assessment brought key stakeholders together especially those that we earlier feared to engage as Batwa. The assessment brought hope that was lost and we can now see the benefits of conservation using our culture.  The assessment meetings and workshops I attended have equipped me with new ways of thinking and working together, and I gained other interpersonal skills. After the recognition of our cultural values, Uganda Wildlife Authority has allowed us to collect wildlings and seedlings from the protected area to plant them on community land. Every time I go to Bwindi I reconnect with nature and appreciate the value of conservation. I always feel connected to my ancestors and our traditional elders. This helps me to reconnect with my natural world. I pass through our cultural sites such as places of worship, big trees and caves when collecting wildlings. This refreshes me to love conservation more and support UWA to conserve Bwindi. I believe that when our trees grow, we will get medicine and wild food which will be good for our health. All this would not have been possible if it was not the governance assessment exercise that we participated in.

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Medard Twinamatsiko Centre for Research Uptake in Africa, Mbarara University of Science and Technology

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Mbarara University of Science and Technology