SUCCESS STORY: Mountains of the Moon out of danger

Posted: 5 July 2004

A national park in Uganda, known as the legendary Mountains of the Moon, has been declared 'out of danger' by UNESCO. The Rwenzori Mountains National Park was put on UNESCO's List of World Heritage sites in Danger in 1999. But now, thanks to efforts by the Uganda Government and collaborating NGOs, its future is regarded as safe.

Rwenzori National Park. Photo: IUCN
Rwenzori National Park. Photo: IUCN
Mountain view, Rwenzori National Park.© IUCN
The decision was made by the World Heritage Committee, meeting in China, on July 4, 2004, following the recommendation made by IUCN - the World Conservation Union.

The Rwenzori Mountains are the most reliable water source of the River Nile and one of Africa's most beautiful mountain areas. The Park's rich and unusual wildlife comprises over a quarter of Uganda's known bird species, globally threatened species of elephants and chimpanzees, and floristic wonders such as the giant heather.

The park contains 89 species of birds, 4 species of diurnal primates, and 15 species of butterflies. A study of invertebrate life forms listed 60 species in the alpine zone, 25 of which were new to science. Covering an area of 99,600 hectares, 70 per cent of which is above 2,500 metres, Rwenzori belongs to the Afromontane biogeographical unit, one of the rarest vegetation types on the African continent.

Civil unrest

Rwenzori National Park. Photo: IUCN
Rwenzori National Park. Photo: IUCN
Rwenzori National Park, Uganda. The park is rich in biodiversity.© IUCN
The Park, inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1994, was declared 'in danger' five years later because of civil unrest, lack of funding, subsequent poaching and encroachment. Rebels used the park as a hiding place, launching attacks on communities and institutions around the Park.

Due to lack of resources, the few remaining rangers were unable to control illegal activities such as tree felling and encroachment. IUCN recommended danger listing in order to raise awareness and increase international support. Currently, 16 natural sites and one mixed property are on the World Heritage in Danger List.

Since then, the security situation on the ground has improved. The park management has regained full control of the property and tourism activity has picked up. The Uganda Wildlife Authority has, in collaboration with other agencies, prepared a 10-year management plan for the Park. This combines conservation with social and economic development, including tourism.

Global co-operation

According to David Sheppard, Head of IUCN Programme on Protected Areas, "the development of Rwenzori Mountains National Park represents a major achievement of the government of Uganda's efforts and commitment to safeguard this site, efforts that have been supported by international institutions such as IUCN, WWF and the USAID.

"It is a success story on the use of the World Heritage Convention as a mechanism to promote international cooperation to protect humankind heritage. It is also an exemplary case on the positive role that danger listing can have to promote international assistance to support the efforts of governments, NGO's and local people committed to the conservation of World Heritage sites."

Source: IUCN