The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund’s Work in Congo
The Fossey Fund’s efforts to help protect gorillas in the Democratic Republic of Congo have been ongoing since 2001. Congo is home to both mountain gorillas (in Virunga National Park, which adjoins Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park) and to the lesser-known Grauer’s gorillas further to the west. The Fossey Fund has worked with Congo’s park and wildlife authorities (ICCN) as well as local communities there over the years to address poaching, conserve critical habitat, set up education programs, and help with the rehabilitation of rescued gorillas.
Grauer's gorillas facing severe decline
Grauer’s gorillas, found only in DR Congo, are facing continuing declines in population, with their home range subjected to conflict since the mid 1990s. Although there is limited data available, their numbers are estimated to be between 2,000 and 10,000 individuals, reflecting a dramatic decline in the past decade, possibly 50 to 75 percent.
Grauer's gorillas, which were formerly called "eastern lowland gorillas," live at a variety of altitudes, not only in lowlands, but not as high up as the mountain gorillas. Due to years of political instability, agricultural expansion, mining, poor economic conditions and other factors, conservation in the area has become critical and the Fossey Fund has committed to help provide long-term solutions.
Unlike mountain gorillas, which have been studied in Rwanda at our Karisoke Research Center for nearly five decades, much less is known about Grauer’s gorillas. The Fossey Fund 's Grauer’s Gorilla Research and Conservation Program in the Congo enables us not only to assess the numbers and stability of the current population in the region, but also to study and protect them.
Protecting Grauer's gorillas
In 2012, the Fossey Fund established a focused Grauer’s Gorilla Conservation Program to begin study and protection of this critically endangered species, based on our successful model at the Karisoke Research Center. We set up a permanent research and conservation field station in the village of Nkuba, at the edge of a pristine forest and began an intensive survey in the area, locating 14 groups of Grauer’s gorillas and other important wildlife. This now allows for regular tracking and protection of their habitat, as well as study of critical aspects of their lives, such as diets, ranging patterns, and social systems. We are also monitoring other remote sectors using a network of camera "traps."
The Fossey Fund also collaborates with Congolese wildlife authorities (ICCN) to observe the only habituated group of Grauer’s gorillas, located in Kahuzi-Biega National Park. This group was originally habituated for tourism and is monitored and protected by ICCN staff. We are working with them to collect data using the same protocols we follow at the Karisoke Research Center. This will enable direct comparisons between the two populations. Since Grauer’s gorillas are the most understudied of the four gorilla subspecies, this work is critical to building the information we need to successfully conserve them.
Caring for rescued Grauer's gorillas
The Fossey Fund also helps support care for Grauer’s gorillas rescued from poachers, to prepare them for eventual return to the wild, at the Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education (GRACE) center. The Fossey Fund was an initial founder of GRACE, and is now a member of a consortium that operates GRACE independently.