The impact of environmental education on conservation practices by communities around Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda.
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The study area is located in southwestern Uganda at the junction of the plain and mountain forests around Bwindi National Park. It lies in the Kigezi Highlands of southwestern Uganda overlooking the western rift valley, within the District of Kanungu. In this study, I assessed the local communities’ awareness of environmental issues, their attitudes towards the ongoing environmental education and evaluated the perceived impacts of environmental education towards conservation practices in the communities around Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (BINP). Four Parishes (Muramba, Buremba in Mpungu Sub-County and Mukono, Bujengwe in Kayonza Sub-County) were selected because they were adjacent the park and most targeted by organizations carrying out environmental education. A total of 130 respondents were included in the sample using systematic and purposive sampling techniques. These comprised of household heads, officials of Non Governmental Organizations and Uganda Wildlife Authority staff. Questionnaires, direct observation and photography, focus group discussions plus other secondary sources were used to obtain the data. Data obtained was analysed using Statistical Package for Social Scientists (SPSS) to find out the relationship between education level of respondents and perceived benefits from environmental education using Chi-square Test, Microsoft Excel to come up with frequency tables and charts, then finally Principle Component Analysis that helped in showing the relationships of the impacts of environmental education and local communities’ responses. Results showed a high level of communities’ awareness of environmental issues in the area. The issues identified included deforestation, wildlife protection, soil erosion, diseases, swamp and forest conservation. The majority of the respondents also reported awareness of the presence of organizations involved in environmental education that included CARE, MBIFICT, NAADS, IGCP, CTPH, ITFC and the Mukono Community Environment Association around BINP. The findings revealed that of the respondents that were studied, 59.2% had positive attitude towards environmental education and conservation practices, while 11.7% had negative attitudes. The relationship between education level of respondents and perceived benefits from environmental education programs was not statistically significant (X2=12.992, df=8, P=0.112>0.005). The study finally drew conclusions that organizations involved in environmental education had had some impact on ground by creating environmental awareness and as a result 40% of the respondents around BINP have acquired skills in environmental protection and 3.3% improved their household incomes, through developing alternative economic activities that allow them to meet their daily needs. The study recommends for a more comprehensive environmental education programme among the communities living around the park and that the organizations involved should clearly outline the programme goals and objectives to the local people in order to understand better the causes of environmental problems and ensure their support for conservation of the natural resources.