January 25, 2012
New Fossey Fund Staff, Leadership Protecting Gorillas in Congo
For the past decade, the Fossey Fund has been working to help protect endangered Grauer’s gorillas in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), primarily by supporting the development of a network of community-based nature reserves linking two national parks in a vast forested area that includes almost all of the Grauer’s’ habitat. This year we have expanded this effort by launching a new monitoring initiative in the DRC. An additional 30 Congolese field staff (25 trackers and five team leaders) have been hired to carry out data collection and monitoring of six populations of gorillas, under the leadership of Urbain Ngobobo, an experienced Congolese conservationist.
“Habitat is the essential condition for gorilla survival,” says Juan Carlos Bonilla, the Fossey Fund’s vice president of Africa programs. “Our new program will focus on direct monitoring and protection of gorilla groups in this vast region,” complementing the work of the community reserves.
Ngobo emphasizes that it is important to involve local people and their communities in conservation. “When you are only looking at the biodiversity aspect and overlooking community conservation, it’s very difficult to succeed,” he says. “This is one of the major causes of failure of national parks’ conservation strategies in Congo.” “Urbain Ngobobo has a firm grasp of the important link between the community and wildlife conservation,” says Bonilla.
The new team of trackers in Congo were selected based on their experience in the forest, their physical condition (including a challenging endurance test) and general knowledge of conservation and the environment. Many had worked with the community reserves. The Fossey Fund’s Karisoke™ Research Center’s field staff, based in Rwanda, has perfected the art of daily data collection and behavior monitoring over the last four decades, and will share this expertise with the new team of trackers in Congo to help them prepare for the important work that lies ahead.
The Grauer’s gorilla is related to the mountain gorillas protected by Karisoke, but they differ slightly in physiology and appearance, with shorter, lighter hair (better suited to a warmer climate) and a narrower face. They live in lowland forests, and were formerly known as eastern lowland gorillas. Due to habitat loss and civil war, the Grauer’s’ numbers have declined greatly in recent decades to somewhere between 4,000 and 25,000 individuals, although an accurate count has not yet been possible.