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Our Democratic Republic of the Congo team helps save gorillas AND critical forest

Most Grauer’s gorillas – which are critically endangered – live outside of protected areas like national parks, in extremely remote forests within the Congo Basin of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). As an alternative to a national park model, Fossey Fund team members, in collaboration with landowners, have established the Nkuba Conservation Area (NCA), a community-managed forest in the core of the Grauer’s gorilla range, now spanning more than 2,400 square kilometers. This tropical rainforest is vital as it not only helps with our conservation efforts for Grauer’s gorillas, but also absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, directly fighting the effects of climate change on our planet.

In honor of Earth Day, we’d like to give special thanks to our more than 150  team members in the DRC for their hard work and dedication in helping to keep Grauer’s gorillas and other endangered wildlife safe, while also sustaining this indispensable part of the Earth. 

Urbain Ngobobo - Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund Leadership

Urbain Ngobobo, our DRC program director, has been with the Fossey Fund since 2011 and leads all of our work there, including daily tracking of Grauer’s gorillas, biodiversity research and our community programs. He is the recipient of several awards for his leadership in community conservation efforts and is currently completing his Ph.D. in natural resource management.

“In protecting the gorillas and their important forests, I feel we are doing a job for humanity,” says Ngobobo. “These forests are important to everyone. They are one of our best natural defenses against climate change and each animal and plant in the forest has a role to play.”

Raymond Tokunda, DRC gorilla program manager, joined the Fossey Fund in 2019 and oversees our Grauer’s gorilla tracking and monitoring activities within the Nkuba Conservation Area. He has an academic background in ecology, conservation and ecosystem management, as well as expertise in ecological software and experience with large mammal inventories. 

“Our journey to protecting Grauer’s gorillas is filled with challenges because we cannot reach all sectors of this vast area on a regular basis. However, each day brings us closer to understanding and protecting these magnificent creatures, as we employ new tools and methods,” Tokunda says. “My vision for the Nkuba Conservation Area is to be a model of successful, inclusive conservation, where every individual has a role to play in preserving the gorillas’ habitat.”

Paul Kazaba, Ph.D., research scientist, joined us this year, bringing a diverse background in environmental and wildlife management. His responsibilities include helping to design, lead and execute research projects on Grauer’s gorillas and other elements of their ecosystem, as well as to help further build our research team there.

“As the least-studied of the gorilla subspecies, Grauer’s gorillas offer us golden opportunities to explore new frontiers and learn new things about our closest relatives,” says Dr. Kazaba.

“Grauer’s gorillas are on the brink of extinction, mainly due to increasing human-driven pressures, so my message is simple: Let’s act urgently to reverse these worrying trends. Everyone has a role to play, from educating the public to supporting the boots-on-the-ground daily research and conservation work the Fossey Fund is doing in DRC.”

Grauer’s gorilla in Kahuzi-Biega National Park

Escobar Binyinyi, DRC database program manager, joined the Fossey Fund’s program in the DRC in 2004, initially working as a GIS (geographic information systems) and database/management coordinator. In 2011 he helped to organize our first expeditions in the Grauer’s gorilla forests. As database program manager, Binyinyi manages the scientific database for our programs in the DRC and is responsible for the network of remote camera traps that helps the Fossey Fund monitor the forests.

“We still have much to learn about Grauer’s gorillas, but one day I hope the world will know about the amazing work done with local communities in Nkuba to protect the gorillas.”

Binyinyi is from the north Kivu area, near Virunga National Park, where his uncle was a park ranger. This is where he first became interested in wildlife conservation. 

Guillain Mugilegile Mitamba, base manager for the Nkuba Conservation Area, is responsible for all Fossey Fund activities related to agriculture, livestock, fish farming and local community forestry concessions, which help offset pressures on the forest and raise awareness for the protection and conservation of the Grauer’s gorillas. Mitamba studied rural development and planning at the University of Rural Development in Bukavu and focuses on the impact of the involvement of local communities in the management of protected areas.