On 16 February 2012, the State Party submitted a comprehensive report on the state of conservation of the property covering progress made during the 3 year period since the previous State Party report in January 2009. The report provides a general update on the implementation of park programmes in relation to park operations, resource conservation, transboundary collaboration, community conservation, cultural values and tourism development, as well as specific information in response to Decision 33 COM 7B.7.
The State Party reports that a mid-term review of the park’s ten-year General Management Plan (GMP, 2004-14) was carried out in 2009 to adapt its provisions to changing circumstances. The GMP envisages an increase in staffing from 62 in 2004 to 111 by 2014, but the State Party reports a reduction in staffing levels from 74 in 2009 to 64 in 2012. Furthermore, the transport facilities are reported to be inadequate, with just two ageing vehicles and five old motorcycles deployed. The State Party notes that support is needed in order to address this issue.
The State Party also reports that, despite an increase in the number of park visitors and revenues, the amount of internally generated revenue is still inadequate and supports only about 48% of the park’s recurrent expenditure (compared to 50% in 2008/09 and 47% in 2006/07). The shortfall is provided by donors, notably the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), WWF (through the Rwenzori Mountains Conservation and Environmental Management Project, RMCEMP), the MacArthur Foundation and Fauna and Flora International (FFI).
The State Party notes that one new single-room outpost was constructed for staff at Mihunga with financial support from WWF, and the Environmental Conservation Trust of Uganda (ECOTRUST) is supporting the construction of a new visitor information centre. Private sector visitor accommodation facilities have been constructed near the park’s main gate, but other investment costs remain unmet.
b) Community collaboration
The State Party reports a strong programme of collaboration with local communities which has resulted in significant benefits for a wide range of stakeholders. Particular initiatives include continuation of tourism concessions to local community-based groups, a new programme aimed at strengthening cultural values and their links with biodiversity conservation, a climate sensitisation programme, and introduction of climate change mitigation measures, including community-based tree planting to stabilize the banks of the NyamwambaRiver which have been subject to erosion attributed to floods resulting from climate change effects (glacial melt).
c) Resource conservation and protection
Despite the budgetary, staffing and logistical constraints noted above, the State Party reports a 50% increase in patrol effort, covering 65% of the park. Patrol efforts are focussed in the lower-lying areas of the park where the threats are higher, mainly illegal hunting, tree felling and collection of forest products such as bamboo and honey.
The State Party also reports that resource harvesting within the property by local communities has been initiated on a pilot basis. 14 Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) allowing members of neighbouring parishes access to park resources, were signed during the 2009-2012 reporting period.
The State Party further reports significant progress in trans-boundary coordination between the management of Rwenzori Mountains National Park (RMNP) and that of Virunga National Park (VNP), two adjoining World Heritage properties. Two senior-level park warden committee meetings have been held to forge working alliances and plan for coordinated patrol efforts in the border areas. Six coordinated patrols have been carried out on a quarterly basis. Despite this progress, the State Party notes that some earlier identified challenges, such as communications, cross-border movement restrictions and lack of understanding of the respective wildlife laws, remain unresolved.
The State Party notes that the insurgency activities which led to the closure of the park for six years (1997-2003) have now abated and there is good coordination between the park management and other security agencies in intelligence gathering and running joint patrols to maintain park security.
The State Party reports that efforts by Kilembe Mines Limited to re-open the Kaolin quarry in the Kasitoha area were halted in July 2006 and that no mining has taken place within the property since then. It notes that Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) is in on-going consultation on the matter with the parent Ministry.
e) Tourism management
The State Party reports a 20% annual increase in visitor numbers since 2003, and notes a number of significant developments to satisfy this demand and improve the visitor experience, including development of a new 67 km hiking circuit from Kilembe, with a new management concession and eight tented camps, expansion of the overnight visitors’ cabin at Nyabitaba on the central circuit trekking route, and upgrading of the tourist trails and erection of three information boards. The State Party recognises, however, that visitor satisfaction is still inadequate and there is room for further improvement.
f) Research and monitoring
The State Party reports that current monitoring efforts are focussed on three areas of concern, namely resource inventories and off-take monitoring in the designated harvesting zones, impacts of climate change including measurement of the retreat of the glaciers, weather data and monitoring of river water quality, and status of chimpanzees. A further 11 priority research topics have been identified to assist management decision-making, but these remain to be implemented.
g) Forest fire
The World Heritage Centre received reports from the Park management that during February 2012, wild fires started in the Heather/Rapanea zone (3000-4000 m) and spread to the Afro-alpine moorland zone (4000-4500 m). Due to the high humidity and low pressure, the occurrence of fire in this zone was deemed unlikely and therefore not envisaged in the draft fire Management Plan 2007-2014. Park management responded to the threat by ensuring the safety of the visitors present in the area, creating fire lines around infrastructure susceptible to fire, dispatching thirty additional community members to extinguish the fires, and diffusing a fire awareness campaign on two local radio stations, which generated support from 100 volunteers in extinguishing the fires. The fire burnt an area of 4800 ha, which amounts to approximately 5% of the property. Impacts on vegetation, slow moving animals, micro-biota, ecological conditions of the habitat, and ecosystem structure and functioning are reported as significant.
This fire exposed some of the operational challenges in the ability of park management to fight such high altitude fires, including the inadequacy of fire fighting equipment, a poor communication network, and the absence of fire-prevention measures.