The Christian Science Monitor Weekly

November 26, 2018

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PEOPLE MAKING A DIFFERENCE In Rwanda, In Rwanda, Ange Imanishimwe shows poachers they don't have to destroy the forest to survive. have to destroy the forest to survive. ISABELLE DE POMMEREAU CONSERVATIONIST: At a young age, Ange Imanishimwe made a pact with himself to devote his life to protecting nature in southern Rwanda. By Isabelle de Pommereau Correspondent KITABI, RWANDA A t long last the killing stopped. As a boy growing up in the late 1990s after genocide, Em- manuel Mugendashyamba ven- tured into the protected rainforest near his home, a mountainous region in Rwanda's southwest. How many days had he and his father spent illegally hunting antelopes and wild pigs to get food for the family? Or killing monkeys to sell precious skins? They also cut wood for heat and set swaths of the forest on fire to reach beehives and steal honey. Amid the desolation that followed the massacre of some 800,000 people, most - ly minority Tutsis, poaching was often a matter of survival. Locals like Mr. Mugen- dashyamba as well as refugees returning home after the violence ate away not only the Nyungwe Forest, but also Rwanda's two other protected national parks – Akag- era in the east and Volcanoes to the north, home to endangered mountain gorillas. Mugendashyamba's destructive threat could have gone on longer had a local for- est guide named Ange Imanishimwe not confronted him. Their paths crossed at the entrance of the Nyungwe Forest five years ago when Mr. Imanishimwe overheard Mugendashyamba talking about poaching. "Ange said, 'Why are you killing an - imals?' " recalls Mugendashyamba, a soft-spoken man. "Don't you know we all belong to the same planet?" Imanishimwe didn't stop there. You don't have to destroy the forest to sur- vive, he said. There are alternatives. For instance, the nonprofit group that he had just created was aiming, precisely, at en- listing poachers like Mugendashyamba to help preserve the forest and the region. That's how Imanishimwe gave Mugen- dashyamba a job with his group Biocoop. Mugendashyamba is one of 600 res - idents in and around Kitabi, Rwanda, whom Imanishimwe has hired to boost conservation and ecotourism near the Nyungwe Forest, among the largest moun- tain rainforests in East-Central Africa. From heights that offer stunning views of lush forest and green hills with tea plants, Imanishimwe works to reduce poaching, involve villages in conservation, and open this hard-to-reach corner to residents and tourists. "My goal is to eradicate extreme pover- ty and malnutrition in Rwanda by creating 1,000 green jobs every year," says Iman- ishimwe. "When we started giving jobs, we started with those who were poachers before." If Imanishimwe reaches out to locals such as Mugendashyamba, it's in part be- cause he speaks their language. Like so many Rwandan children, he knew some of his school friends were slaughtered because they belonged to the "wrong" ethnic groups. And he had to quit school because his parents could no longer afford the uniform. But while Mugendashyamba's family 'I'm telling other poachers they don't have to kill animals to survive.' – Emmanuel Mugendashyamba, a former poacher who now works for Ange Imanishimwe's nonprofit VNEXT PAGE THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR WEEKLY | NOVEMBER 26, 2018 39

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