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Todd Walters, Godfrey Ogallo and Geoff Dabelko discuss intersections between conflict and conservation.
Photo by Steven Turville

Conservation and Conflict: Film Screening for International Education Week Sparks Discussion

Madison Koenig
December 3, 2013

Students, professors, and members of the Athens community gathered in Walter Hall for a film screening about a national park thousands of miles away.

As a part of International Education Week at Ohio University, the Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs sponsored a screening of "Transcending Boundaries: Perspectives from the Central Albertine Rift Transfrontier Protected Area Network."

The film tells about a collection of national parks that cross the boundaries of Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).  These parks make up the Greater Virunga Landscape, a part of the Central Albertine Rift.  A wide variety of species live in this area, including chimpanzees, elephants and hippopotamuses.  The two remaining populations of mountain gorillas in the world also live in parks in the Landscape.

The film highlighted the intersection of conservation and peace-building efforts in these areas.

During recent conflicts in these countries, rebels relied on the resources of the national parks.  In the DRC, rebels often retreated to the forest and survived on the wildlife, eating protected species and killing elephants to sell their ivory tusks for guns.  For a time the rebels even had control over the areas where the gorilla population lived--and sold permits to tourists.

Organizations in Uganda, Rwanda and the DRC have begun working together to catch rebels who use the parks.  Rangers in the three countries share information and training exercises.

Geoff Dabelko, professor and director of the environmental studies program at the Voinovich School, noted how critical it was for these countries to work together to protect their shared natural resources.

"Political boundaries matter, but ecological boundaries are also important," he said.  "These two worlds that are seen as relatively separate--conservation and peace-building--are coming together in really interesting ways."

The collaboration between peace-building and conservation groups started at the local level, by people who were directly affected by the issues.  Conservation groups worked with law enforcement to protect the forest from rebels.

Godfrey Ogallo, an Ohio University student from Uganda, is pleased by recent conservation efforts for working with people who live in the area.  "It's amazing how at a local level, people are collaborating to make change," he said.

The film was presented by Todd Walters, founder of International Peace Park Expeditions (IPPE), which produced this film.  IPPE utilizes peace parks as sites for interdisciplinary learning and understanding of conservation efforts, such as those shown in the film.  At the screening, Walters noted that although IPPE wanted policy makers, researchers and students in the United States to see the film, the organization also wants to screen it in the places it portrays.

"Our goal is to bring this film back to the areas where we did most of the footage," he said.  IPPE aims to include people at a local level in the discussion of conservation and peace-building efforts surrounding the national parks.

A similar discussion occurred in Walter Hall after the film.

An audience member pointed out that other than rebels, some people in the area also depended on the forest for sustenance.  Before the parks were founded by colonial governments, many people relied on the forest for food and resources, and the parks were created without consideration for how those people would be affected. 

The audience member worried that conservation efforts are continuing this problematic trend, but Godfrey pointed out that conservation can have other positive side effects for local communities.  He noted that safe national parks, especially those that house species as rare as mountain gorillas, draw in enough foreign tourists to sustain the economy.

"People are finding new ways to get by," he said.

To view the film, please visit http://vimeo.com/62257328

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