Helping People Helps Gorillas
In addition to studying and protecting wild gorilla populations, the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International has in recent years begun an extensive program to help the human communities living in these areas. The needs are many, from health to economic to education, and we have developed projects in all of these areas.
One of our biggest people projects is the Ecosystem Health Program, managed by Dr. Alecia Lilly. The Ecosystem Health program aims to bring a healthy environment not only to the endangered animals within parks and reserves, but also to the people who live around these areas. Specific goals included assessing transmission of intestinal parasites from people to animals, assessing and treating intestinal parasites in local communities, and addressing other health problems in the human populations through treatment, prevention and education.
Our ecosystem health projects are now underway in Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic. We have collected and analyzed thousands of intestinal samples from gorillas and from human populations and started treatment and prevention programs for thousands of people so far. A recent donation of medicines by Pfizer Pharmaceuticals, Inc., is helping us dramatically increase the numbers of people we can treat.
In addition to the Ecosystem Health program's parasite treatment and education projects, we have also helped train national park staff in Rwanda in emergency medical techniques, in collaboration with the Rwanda Red Cross and the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary project.
We also have programs to provide economic assistance and development to populations in need, including widows and orphans who lost their families during civil unrest. These programs included financial and other support for local orphanages, as well as for local businesses started by widows (such as soap making, sewing, and agricultural projects).
Education of local communities is also a critical need, and we sponsor children from rural villages with school fees and supplies, in addition to our work with higher-level education programs and the children of our Karisoke Research Center staff.