It's harvest time at the Reformed Poachers Project in Uganda, and the local community are enjoying the rewards of their hard work
Members of the Reformed Poachers Project have been busy in the fields as they celebrate a bumper crop ahead of Christmas.
The project gives poachers the chance to earn a sustainable living outside of the forests. To join, they need to hand in their hunting equipment, including any weapons, and take an oath to stay outside of the protected forest. In return, they are given a portion of land and practical support, allowing them to grow crops. Not only are they able to grow enough food to feed themselves and their families, there is enough left over to sell at market, providing them with a reliable income.
The main project, the Rubuguri Reformed Poachers Association, has been a great success. In partnership with the Ugandan Wildlife Authority, it has given more than 30 individuals the chance to turn away from poaching.
As well as the financial benefits, leaving this life also helps raise the social status of the reformed poachers, giving them and their families the chance to integrate more fully into their local communities.
And, of course, it benefits gorillas too. The Rubuguri Reformed Poachers Association now farm land on the edge of the Rubuguri Forest, a small forest just south of the Bwindi National Park.
Before they joined the initiative, the members would trespass into the forests and lay snares down in the hope of catching small mammals to eat or sell for meat at the local market.
These crude traps would sometimes ensnare the endangered mountain gorillas that roam through Bwindi, often with fatal results and with curious infants most likely to get caught up in the snares.
Since the project was launched, however, the number of snares being found on the Rubuguri Forest has dropped from more than 800 a year to virtually zero!
Building on the success of the Rubuguri project, the Mgahinga Reformed Poachers project is now up and running. This will give even more individuals the chance to turn their lives around, benefitting both people and the gorillas they live alongside.