Fossey Fund Starts 3-year Conservation Program for Endangered Eastern Lowland Gorilla in Congo
The population of the endangered eastern lowland gorilla (Gorilla beringei graueri), found almost exclusively in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), has plummeted in recent years. Scientists estimate that fewer than 5,000 individuals remain, down sharply from about 17,000 in 1994.
After nearly a decade of civil war, the area faces both an ecological crisis and a humanitarian one. The gorillas, while an important charismatic species, may also be a significant biological indicator species, indicating the overall health of the flora and fauna of the forests.
In partnership with Conservation International (CI), the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International has now started a major three-year conservation effort to help protect almost the entire range of the eastern lowland gorillas, as well as the other unique species found in the area, working in partnership with community-based reserves in the area.
"The only viable solution to this crisis is the participation of local people in the stewardship of their biological heritage," says Dr. Patrick Mehlman, Ph.D., DFGFI's director of Africa programs. "Like many areas in the world today, this landscape is undergoing a biological and conservation crisis, suffering from over-hunting, mining, and expanding human population pressure as people clear land for agriculture and large commercial pasturage.
"Our new program will allow DFGFI to strengthen its ongoing efforts to create sustainable community nature reserves, which can then work hand-in-hand with nearby national parks, forming a network of biological corridors. With this approach, we hope to help our Congolese partners slow down or even stop the loss of forests and biodiversity in this region. This may be our last chance to reverse this crisis," he adds.
This initiative is made possible by the United States Agency for International Development's (USAID), Central African Regional Program for the Environment (CARPE), and a recent U.S. State Department Initiative (the Congo Basin Forest Partnership). Through funding from CARPE and CI's Global Conservation Fund, DFGFI will receive $978,000 from CI for the first year of the program, with similar funding expected for the second and third years of the program. The DFGFI program will be aided by a Conservation International support team, and will attempt to provide solutions to the conservation crisis in DRC.
DFGFI has been operating in eastern DRC since 2000, by supporting a series of community-based conservation and development projects. The flagship project, the Tayna Gorilla Reserve, is a 700-square-kilometer officially recognized nature reserve that is totally managed by a system of traditional African governance. Based on its success, seven other similar projects, covering a region of more than 10,000 square kilometers, are in development and have organized themselves into an association called UGADEC (Union des Associations de Conservation des Gorilles pour le Développement Communautaire à l'Est de la République Démocratique de Congo).
This new grant award will permit DFGFI to expand and support the UGADEC programs, and also to begin support for the rehabilitation of Maiko National Park, a 10,000-square-kilometer park that has never received any international support.
This area of eastern Congo, covering more than 3 million hectares, has been identified as a unique eco-region, with worldwide conservation significance. The area (referred to officially as the Maiko Tayna Kahuzi-Biega Landscape) has a very high level of species richness, many unique to this area and highly threatened. It supports an unusual combination of charismatic species, including chimpanzee, forest elephant, Nile crocodile, Congo peacock, Congo bay owl, okapi and leopard. The landscape also contains about 97 percent of the distribution and population of eastern lowland gorillas.
"The staggering and almost immediate disappearance of the eastern lowland gorilla underscores the alarming decline of an entire ecosystem," says Juan Carlos Bonilla, senior director for Central Africa at Conservation International. "But this joint effort, which includes everyone from tribal chiefs to non-governmental organizations and national governments, represents an unprecedented commitment to preserve the region."
Watch for continuing reports from Congo, as our work in the area progresses.