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1990. Interviews were conducted in all the communities bordering the Mgahinga Forest in order to determine people’s attitude towards the planned national park (Yeoman et al., 1990; CARE/Impenetrable, 1990). The study found that a change in status from the existing forest/game reserve to a national park was welcomed by the population. The stipulation was that the national park should terminate at the well-known and highly visible row of Australian silver oak (Grevillea robusta) trees along the 8,000 ft (about 2,440 m) contour line and, in the west, at a somewhat lower altitude (Nyakagezi triangle). This line of trees had been planted in 1944. In the late 20th century, many trees were still there and well-known to the local population.

At that point in time, another option was to incorporate an even larger area, i.e. the entire “Gorilla Game Reserve”, into the future national park. This option was subsequently rejected. The population of the villages bordering the Mgahinga Forest expressed the hope that the change of status to a national park would also mean an improvement of their economic situation.
May 1991. The Ugandan parliament passed a resolution to gazette the Mgahinga Forest and parts of the Gorilla Game Reserve as a national park, the “Mgahinga Gorilla National Park”. The national park’s borders largely followed the 8,000 ft contour. The park’s area is approximately 34 km².

1992. Another study (Werikhe 1992) not only gave an idea of people’s opinions, but also documented the size of the active fields and the number of livestock. Subsequently, these numbers helped to determine the amount of compensation that had to be paid to each farmer. The study showed clearly that 70% of the families who had fields and huts inside the national park also owned land outside. None of the buildings had been constructed for permanent occupation.
In the course of 1992, all settlers left the deforested zone of the national park (Zone 2) and most land use inside the national park was stopped: this included potato farming and grazing of livestock (Bachou et al., 1992). In all, 221 farms were moved to new sites on public land lower down in the valley. The settlers received compensation payments whose amount depended on the size of the national park area that they previously used and the number of their livestock. The vegetation of Zone 2 subsequently regenerated and has increasingly been utilised by the animals of the Mgahinga Forest (Sucker 1993a, 1994).
In December 1992, the wheat fields inside the national park were harvested for the last time. Since then, the entire area of Zone 2 has been left to regenerate naturally. The regeneration zone is approximately 10 km² and most of it extends from about 2,400 to 2,700 m asl.
The infrastructure of the new national park was developed during 1993. The guard post was moved to the new park boundary; the northern boundary was marked with 180 cement cairns spread over 14 km. The cairns, which were about 1 m high, made the course of the boundary very clear, but they left adjoining fields completely unprotected from grazing by game animals. A hedge of Erythrina abyssinica was therefore planted along the national park’s boundary. In those areas where the volcanic rock was very close to the surface and made it impossible to plant Erythrina, a natural wall was erected from lava rocks. This “buffalo wall” has subsequently been taken up by other projects, as it does in fact decrease browsing damage by game animals.
During the civil war, which smouldered in Rwanda for years, parts of the Mgahinga Gorilla National Park sometimes served as areas for paramilitary units to retreat into. As there was the risk of these units having laid mines, all hiking trails were checked by a special unit of the Ugandan army with mine detectors. Unexploded mines were detonated with dynamite. During this work, the presence of 5 gorilla groups within the park was established. It also became obvious that parts of the afro-alpine vegetation on the peaks of Mt. Gahinga and Muhavura had been destroyed during the civil war.
Nevertheless, eco-tourism was introduced on August 10th, 1993, initially consisting of mountain trekking, cave viewing and hiking on nature trails.
The range of activities offered to tourists was extended on January 15, 1994: it was now possible to visit the so-called Nyakagezi group. This gorilla group regularly moved between the Ugandan and the Congolese sectors of the Virunga Conservation Area. During the first 2 months, only 2 visitors a day were taken to the gorilla family. In March, this was increased to 4 people and in May of the same year, a maximum of 6 paying tourists were allowed to visit the mountain gorillas for one hour per day. One of the first visitor groups was

a group of representatives of the Kisoro district, who could observe these famous animals at close range for the first time and were visibly impressed (Sucker, 1993b).

By then, 12 months had passed since the last harvest of the deforested zone. Even after such a short time, the gorillas had extended their habitat to include about 80% of that zone: they found food on the fallow fields, nesting material in the small thickets and they felt safe. From November 1993 to mid-February 1994, one group spent most of its time in this “new” zone and obviously “reconnoitred” the newly won terrain.

They spent most of their time relatively close to the ranger post, mainly on the lower slopes of Muhavura, where mountain gorillas had not been seen for over 20 years… For 2 days, this gorilla group even stayed in the very valley of the new park headquarters. The rangers registered an access time of only 5 minutes. [The “access time” is the time it takes to get from the start of the walk to the gorillas; comment by U. Karlowski.] Local residents gathered at the national park boundary to see the gorillas “from a safe distance” of about 100 m at the headquarters. It could not be determined which group (people or gorillas) watched the other group with more interest. (Sucker, 1993c).

Apart from this habituated group, a single silverback male and another group with 3 individuals utilized the new area.
Even before gorilla tourism started officially in the Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, a revenue sharing system was developed for the population living close to the park. This system envisaged the use of 20% of the income generated by the park entrance fees for project ideas coming from the population, for example for the construction of new schools or store buildings. These days, this concept is an integral part of the policies of the Uganda Wildlife Authority, UWA, for all reserves in Uganda (Muloba & Nyiramahoro, 2002).
On June 19, 1994, Klaus-Jürgen Sucker died, in circumstances that are still unresolved. His tragic, mysterious death still raises many questions and leaves a large gap that cannot be filled. Without the courageous involvement of all the people who have supported the conservation of this area of the Virunga region, the gain in wilderness area, which can clearly be seen on satellite images, would not have been possible. We owe a special debt to Klaus-Jürgen Sucker for ensuring that the mountain gorillas, as well as numerous other species of animals and plants, are not only conserved but also experience an enlargement of their habitat.