The conflict between humans and nature in the Virunga mountain range has significantly declined ever since the construction of buffalo walls a few years ago that prevent wild animals from venturing into human settlements and damaging crops.
Buffalos, known for their wild nature, pose a threat to human life and agricultural livelihoods when they come into contact with humans or graze on crops.
In response to this ongoing challenge, the construction of buffalo walls has been carried out multiple times in the Virunga Mountains. It remains a necessity for certain communities residing near the transboundary ecosystem, as it serves as an effective measure against the encroachment of these risky animals on human settlements and food crops in the vicinity of the volcanic mountains.
During a visit to the buffalo wall, also known as the stone wall, The New Times observed a reduction in human-wildlife conflict. Instances of buffalos escaping from the park and causing damage to local communities’ farms or crops have become rare, as confirmed by the residents.
Vestine Nyirabagaruka, one of the local residents engaged in farming activities, expressed her gratitude for the wall, highlighting its role in ensuring their safety and enabling them to continue their agricultural practices on a daily basis.
Francis Bayingana, the tourism warden for Volcano National Park says confrontations between wild animals and the local communities, as well as crop degradation, have significantly decreased.
Bayingana said, “Proximity to the park had a negative impact, resulting in direct confrontations between wild animals and local communities, leading to crop damage.” He further explained, “Sometimes, buffalos manage to push through the stone wall and escape. We have learned to address this by adding a trench, although they still manage to fill it with soil and find a way out.”
The trench, measuring over one meter in length, serves as an additional barrier against the buffalos.
To combat these challenges, a team diligently monitors daily damages caused by buffalos and repairs the wall accordingly. While the stone wall reduces damages significantly, there is still a 5 per cent chance of buffalo escaping, creating complications for complete containment.
On the Ugandan side of Mgahinga National Park, the introduction of Erythrina abyssinica tree species has proven to be a successful intervention in maintaining the buffalo wall’s integrity and strengthening it as the trees grow.
Richard Muhabwe, the Senior Warden In-Charge of the park, explained that instances of wall breakage due to buffalo pressure have been recorded.
He highlighted the use of Erythrina abyssinica, which acts as natural support for the stone wall as the trees mature. Additionally, the use of concrete has been effective in keeping the massive wild animals confined within the park due to its durability and weight.
Official data obtained by The New Times reveals that approximately 76 kilometers of buffalo wall construction took place in Kinigi Sector, funded by the Greater Virunga Transboundary Collaboration (GVTC) at a cost of over Rwf 13 million. Additionally, a 3.5 kilometer trench was dug in Bugeshi Sector. In Uganda, a 16-kilometer buffalo wall has been established as well.
Electrical fencing is also commonly used on the DR Congo side.
While fewer cases of human-wildlife conflict are now being registered in the mountain range, where wild animals occasionally damage local communities’ crops, the importance of buffer zones remains crucial.