Nyungwe National Park (NNP) is a zero-extinction area and a UNESCO biosphere reserve and has a range of diverse attractions such as chimpanzees, different species of monkeys, the source of the Nile, various species of endemic birds of the Albertine Rift, among others. Additionally, the NNP has been identified as the habitat of a number of globally threatened species, including the African golden cat, which is classified as vulnerable by the IUCN Red List. According to African Parks (2022), this natural forest is threatened mainly by poaching for bushmeat, agricultural encroachment, collection of firewood and medicinal plants, and illegal mining.
With financial support from re: Wild through the African Golden Cat Conservation Alliance and Working Group (AGCCA & WG), Nature Rwanda conducted an assessment and focus group discussion with local communities in Gatare and Nkomane sectors in the Nyamagabe district to understand their perception of African golden cats known locally as ‘Imbaka’ and the threat posed by poaching activities around the Park. This document presents the main findings and conservation insights from local communities.
Recognizing the importance of indigenous knowledge in conservation, a structured questionnaire was developed to collect qualitative and quantitative information on the conservation status of African golden cats and other conservation information was administered to 43 informants selected using a semi-stratified method in two sectors, Nkomane and Gatare, adjacent to the park. Of the respondents, 48.8% were reformed hunters, 32.6% were regular forest users, 11.6% were beekeepers and forage collectors, and 7% were active hunters.
The African golden cat is a commonly known species in the region as reported by 72.09% of respondents. It is known under different names such as Imbaka, Nyiramuhari and/or Inturo. Specifically, 65.12% of the total population reported seeing this species (last seen in 2022) in the forest while hunting or in the village searching of prey. However, it is now extremely rare to see this species at forest edges unless going indoors due to human activities in the park; trapping (65%, N=43), destruction of forests (39.5%, N=43) and bush fires (23.3%, N=43). Moreover, the African golden cat is not currently hunted for bushmeat, some local populations (25.58%), especially the elderly mentioned that the skin of this species is used in traditional medicine and ornamental decoration, while 74.42% of respondents said that the African golden cat has no cultural use in Rwanda. In terms of conservation status, 62.79% of respondents do not know if there is a law or policy protecting the African golden cat.
The focus group discussions highlighted that lack of jobs, lack of firewood, poverty, very income-generating activities and lack of awareness are the main causes that push people to poach and to enter the park illegally. However, the local community is ready to contribute to the conservation of the forest when provided with alternatives and affordable solutions such as cooking stoves to reduce pressure on the park, access to land and inputs to increase agriculture productivity, environmental education to raise awareness about the conservation of endangered species, and create work opportunities for community members to improve their wellbeing.
In nutshell, indigenous knowledge confirmed the presence of the African golden cat in Nyungwe National Park and presented some of the solutions to address the conservation challenges in the sectors adjacent to the park. It was recommended to undertake a camera trap project to confirm the presence and status of this species and to implement livelihood and job creation projects in the area to disconnect the local community from this protected area.
About the African Golden Cat Conservation Alliance and Working Group
The African Golden Cat Conservation Alliance and Working Group (AGCCA & WG)’s vision is to be a force multiplier that brings in-country conservation practitioners, their local communities, nongovernmental organizations, and national wildlife authorities to scale up scientifically sound conservation activities across the geographical range of the African golden cat where human threats to the species (and other wildlife) are rife. The AGCCA & WG has 26 in-country passionate conservation leaders in 19 countries of the African golden cat range.