Two conservationists’ wide-ranging reflections on a quarter-century in Rwanda.
In 1978, when Weber and Vedder arrived in Rwanda to study mountain gorillas with Dian Fossey, the gorilla population was teetering toward extinction. Established methods of conservation, such as setting up nationally sanctioned parks protected by force from would-be intruders, had failed. Poachers eluded park guards with relative ease, and neither Rwandans generally nor local farmers specifically seemed to care about the gorillas’ fate. As Weber and Vedder tell it, these problems were exacerbated by Fossey. Made famous by a series of National Geographic specials, Fossey later lost the energetic brilliance that had made her so successful. She became reclusive, prone to long periods of depression and drinking, and exceedingly difficult to deal with. Moreover, her convictions that Rwandans must be allowed as little control of the park as possible and that poachers must be fought with superior force and violence had proved incorrect. Weber and Vedder adopted a different approach, seeking ways to appeal to Rwandan self-interest by making the gorillas’ habitat a source of revenue. The result was one of the first eco-parks, in which small groups of visitors pay to track and see gorillas in their natural habitat. The Rwandan park continues to provide needed revenue to local residents and discourage poachers; its success has enabled the gorilla population to grow. Unfortunately, Weber and Vedder follow up their climactic chapter on establishing eco-tourism with a patchy, ill-conceived 100 pages rambling through various other subjects: film crews in the jungle, Fossey’s death, an economic development project, life in Rwanda, and the infamous 1993 genocide.
An insightful, if unfocused glimpse into the problems of conservation in the Third World.