Protecting the biodiversity of the Democratic Republic of the Congo is a global responsibility.
You probably know the Fossey Fund best for our work protecting endangered mountain gorillas in Rwanda and critically endangered Grauer’s gorillas in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. But our work with these animals is just one small part of what we do. On Earth Day and every day, we believe that our work to protect the remote, biodiverse forests of Africa and the human communities that live nearby offers a template for protecting the entire planet and all of the animals, plants and humans who live here. Nowhere is this connection more visible than in the remote habitat of the Grauer’s gorilla of the DRC.
In 2001 we expanded into the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the only place on earth where the critically endangered Grauer’s gorillas live. Because most of them live outside of formally protected areas, we developed a plan to work with local landowners to create a community-developed conservation zone: the Nkuba Conservation Area (NCA). Community members near the NCA agree not to hunt endangered wildlife, and in exchange for this agreement we provide employment and invest in the development of their communities.
The now ~1300 km2 Nkuba Conservation Area (NCA) is situated roughly halfway between the governmentally protected Maiko National Park and Kahuzi-Biega National Park (see map). It is community-owned and managed by a collaboration between the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund and local community stakeholders.
Through camera trap surveys and a range of other inventory methods, we’ve confirmed that the NCA supports rich biodiversity, providing habitat for a long list of mammalian and bird species. We have confirmed the presence of at least eight globally threatened species of mammals, including the Grauer’s gorilla and the chimpanzee. Other threatened species include two additional primate species, two large cats and two species of pangolin. Of course, the diversity of species in the NCA does not stop at vertebrates. In fact, the vast majority of species in Nkuba is likely to be found among insects, plants and fungi. The NCA is a hotspot of biodiversity.
We take a people-centered approach to conservation, addressing the basic needs of communities living near the gorillas so that they can be part of the conservation effort.
The DRC is challenged by extremely high poverty rates (three out of four people there live in extreme poverty), food insecurity, decades of civil unrest and a global market for conflict minerals such as coltan, an element used to make mobile phones and other electronics. As a result, conservation is a luxury few can afford. Assisting people nearby with options for livelihood and food helps us to keep this ecosystem intact and undamaged. The Congolese people take pride in their forests and work to proactively protect them, but they need training and financial support to keep the forest healthy. That’s where we come in.
In the communities near the NCA, we engage and employ people in all facets of our conservation activities—protection, science, community engagement. We address food security issues by providing training in agricultural techniques and crop diversification, and by developing sources of protein, like fish farms or chickens that we distribute to provide eggs. We’ve renovated health clinics to ensure the people of Nkuba have access to medical care, and to give trained health care staff a safe place to work. Our educational programming, including radio shows and nature clubs in schools, works to spread conservation messaging.
Beyond the NCA
But our work does more than simply protecting the people and forests of Nkuba. When we protect gorillas by keeping their wild ecosystem intact, we are actually protecting human health and well-being across the globe as well.
The forests of the Congo Basin, in which gorillas live, are the “lungs” of our planet, and healthy, growing forests can slow the effects of climate change by keeping carbon dioxide in the trees where it belongs so it doesn’t warm our planet. Helping local community members near the NCA to raise their families and find work, food and healthcare keeps the forest ecosystem of the DRC intact, which slows climate change, protecting oceans, mountains and other ecosystems worldwide.
On this Earth Day and every day, we work to protect the biodiverse habitat of the critically endangered Grauer’s gorilla by helping the nearby human communities as well as the plants, animals and insects of this biodiverse habitat. And our mission of more than five decades provides a model that conservationists everywhere can use: Help people to protect the habitat that surrounds them, and you’ll ensure we leave a healthy planet for the generations that follow us.
Happy Earth Day from all of us at the Fossey Fund.