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Heroes in the forests of Congo: Fossey gorilla trackers receive Disney Conservation award

Each day, Fossey Fund trackers hike deep in the forests of the Congo basin, protecting the critically endangered Grauer’s gorillas and other wildlife and helping to save one of the world’s most-important ecosystems. And now, they have been acknowledged for their efforts by the Disney Conservation Fund, which recently named them as “Disney Conservation Heroes.”

The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund’s work in the Democratic Republic of the Congo was initiated in 2002 to help save rapidly declining Grauer’s gorillas, most of which live outside of national parks. To accomplish this, the Fossey Fund has collaborated with indigenous landowners for more than a decade, helping them to secure formal legal status for their forests and to manage their land for both wildlife protection and sustainable usage.

Trackers hiking up a hill

Protection in this area is carried out by trackers hired from the local communities, which are some of the poorest in the world. Some of these trackers formerly hunted in the forest for survival. But now they camp for weeks at a time deep in the forests to protect groups of Grauer’s gorillas as well as all the other important wildlife there.

As Disney Conservation Heroes, they join recipients from around the world who have each “taken risks, shown courage and contributed to an inspiring global story of hope for the future.”

This award follows the designation of our trackers in Rwanda as Disney Conservation Heroes, who were honored in 2016.

“Our trackers have all dedicated their lives to ensuring the survival of these gorillas and their crucial forests,” says Fossey Fund President and CEO/Chief Scientific Officer Tara Stoinski, Ph.D.

“They are truly the front line in the fight against extinction and we are grateful to the Disney Conservation Fund for recognizing their service.”

Congo trackers

Conservation based on community

Because these forests have been used by people for centuries to help meet their basic needs for survival, the Fossey Fund’s work has focused on finding the best ways for people and wildlife to co-exist in a mutually beneficial way, and has now become a successful model for conservation, protecting more than 2,400 square kilometers of forest.

Unlike the model used in national parks, where human activities are prohibited, the Fossey Fund’s goal in Congo is to help both gorillas and human populations thrive together.  This means the forest can still be used for basic needs but in a way that is sustainable and protects wildlife. 

“We work in full collaboration with communities because we believe that the future of these gorillas – and these forests – is in their hands,” says Fossey Fund Congo Program Director Urbain Ngobobo. “Through this work, they can see that participating in conservation has benefits for them, while also protecting these important forests for nature and the planet. This is a long-term sustainable approach that benefits everyone – people, gorillas, other wildlife, even the climate,” he adds.

“I am grateful that the Fossey Fund has come to help us protect this forest,” says tracker Bokongo Akilimari, who formerly hunted in the forest for food. “We – the community around the forest – know its value and now we can stop harming the wildlife there and instead take the lead in protecting them. In my job as a tracker, I can contribute to conservation while also being able to support my family, pay school fees for my children and receive health services.”

The Fossey Fund also conducts a wide variety of community programs in these communities, to help improve food security, access to basic livelihoods and education.