Empowerment through Ecotourism

Batwa Forest Experience © MUST

The Bwindi Batwa Forest Experience

Along the southern border of Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, home to almost half of the world’s mountain gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei), a unique partnership has taken hold between CEPF grantee Mbarara University of Science and Technology (MUST) and the indigenous Batwa people. Together, they are creating a means for the Batwa people to participate in park management committees, helping them negotiate natural resource usage rights, and improving the “Bwindi Batwa Forest Experience,” an ecotourism venture at the edge of the national park.

When Bwindi National Park was established in 1991, the Batwa were forced to leave, creating a difficult social dynamic, pitting the rights of historically marginalized people against broader conservation goals.

“Uganda is now looking for answers to the Batwa plight,” said MUST’s Medard Twinamatsiko Katonera. “We hope their culture will be celebrated through the Batwa Forest Experience as they reconnect to their natural world and conserve this great forest."

Please watch the movie about the Bwindi Batwa Forest Experience on our YouTube channel here.

Local Empowerment

“We have trained 20 Batwa tour guides, 20 Batwa dancers and about 22 Batwa in enterprise development, financial management, negotiation and basic research skills,” he said. The project brought the Batwa together under the Bwindi Batwa Community Development Association (BBCDA), and has enabled them to voice their concerns to the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), local government and other stakeholders. MUST also trained all the 11 executive officers of BBCDA in leadership and negotiation skills.

In 2018, the project also helped place two Batwa representatives on the Revenue Sharing Project Management Committee and two Batwa representatives on the Problem Animal Management Committee. UWA recruited one of its first Batwa rangers, John Kaheru, who can now participate in decision-making about protecting Bwindi’s forest.

MUST’s efforts come at a time of conservation success for the flagship species of the region. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species downlisted the mountain gorillas from Critically Endangered to Endangered due to population growth resulting from effective conservation. Empowering the Batwa to conserve their culture and get their voices heard will build on that success and allow these former inhabitants of Bwindi to thrive with it.

A previous version of this article was posted on the CEPF website and is included in the CEPF 2018 annual report.

You can watch our interview with Medard on our Facebook page.


BirdLife International runs the Regional Implementation Team (RIT) for the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) investment in the Eastern Afromontane Hotspot (2012 -2019). See the interactive map of all projects implemented under the CEPF Eastern Afromontane Hotspot programme here.

The Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund is a joint initiative of l'Agence Française de Développement, Conservation International, the European Union, the Global Environment Facility, the Government of Japan and the World Bank. A fundamental goal is to ensure civil society is engaged in biodiversity conservation. More information on the CEPF can be found at