Earlier this year, 10 Congolese university students joined us at our base in Nkuba to get first-hand experience in the field of conservation. Nine of the students study nature conservation or sustainable development at the Institute for Tourism in Goma, while the tenth studies agronomy at ULGL (Université Libre des Grands Lacs) in Bukavu. For some of these students, an internship with the Fossey Fund represented a unique chance to visit the Congolese rainforest. Others, who were born and raised in the region, saw the internship as an opportunity to learn how to protect their native forests. But no matter where they came from, they all wanted to learn.
During their internships, each student participated in either the gorilla, biodiversity or community conservation program. And to get a sense of our fieldwork conditions, they all spent two weeks in the forest alongside our team members. These two weeks were a real challenge, as most of the students had never before experienced the heat, the mosquitoes or the isolation of camping in the forest, carrying everything they needed on their backs. But it was worth it for Moïse, who said setting foot in the primary forest, in wild gorilla territory, was a thrilling experience. He was particularly impressed that trackers use bird calls to communicate with one another in the forest so they don’t disturb the gorillas.
Another student, Christophe, said that “it was great to experience the nature we learn about at school. Not only the gorillas, which we heard while we were tracking them, but also the other animals and plants. In Nkuba, I learned to respect animals and realized that we should use our intelligence to protect them.”
The forests of Nkuba charmed many of the students. “I wish I could come back again,” said Grâce, who said two weeks was not enough to learn all there is to know. Another student, Lucie, particularly loved being surrounded by trees, while Trésor enjoyed observing parrots in a salt lick.
Born in nearby villages, Boaz and Patrick were already familiar with life in the forest. As members of the nearby community, they were particularly interested in the Fossey Fund’s people-centered approach to conservation. “This project in Nkuba — protecting the gorillas while helping local communities — is crucial to improve local livelihoods in Nkuba,” said Boaz.
“Too many people exploited the forests without restraint in the past, and the animals were almost gone,” added Patrick. He was excited to learn how the Fossey Fund helps people in order to protect wildlife.
Yves and Vincent also worked with the community conservation program and saw first-hand that involving communities in our work ensures that the forests and their gorillas are safe. Thanks to the Fossey Fund, said Yves, “our grandchildren will live in a Congo where gorillas still exist.” And, said Vincent, “villagers will be able to live healthier lives thanks to a healthy forest.”
“We were honored to be able to provide these students with an in-depth learning experience alongside our staff in Nkuba,” said Urbain Ngobogo, the director of the Fossey Fund’s Congo programs. “We look forward to watching them develop their careers in conservation.”