Our Ecosystem Health and Community Programs

August 2004
Our Ecosystem Health and Community Programs

Although the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International is primarily a conservation organization, with the mission of protecting wild gorillas and their habitats in Africa, we also feel a deep responsibility to work with and help those people who live near the gorillas and protected conservation areas, preserves and national parks, and in the towns and villages where we are based.
In most areas of east-central Africa where we work, gorillas and human populations live in close proximity. The humans in these areas are often extremely impoverished and lacking in health care, and the diseases they face also threaten the gorillas. In fact, we believe that disease transmission is second only to habitat destruction as a threat to the survival of endangered great apes, such as the mountain gorillas and the eastern lowland gorillas in the areas in which we work.
In addition to health problems, the human populations we work with also suffer from great economic needs, especially as these areas recover from years of civil unrest. Accordingly, our Ecosystem Health and Community Development programs, led by Dr. Alecia Lilly, aim to serve people in these areas, for both human and conservation benefits.
Our Ecosystem Health project analyzes intestinal parasites in people around protected areas and provides both treatment and prevention education. This includes providing supplies and resources to outpost clinics, such as medicines, microscopes, slides and training in the identification of parasites. We also study the parasite levels in the gorillas living in these areas, comparing the samples to determine the levels of transmission to the gorillas as well as its potential impact. We also plan to study the transmission of other diseases in these areas, to determine the most important threats and ongoing solutions.

Our other community projects under this program include:

  • our critical needs projects,
  • our indigenous peoples projects, and
  • civic responsibility projects.

Our critical needs projects are those that help people with short-term survival initiatives. For example, we may provide nutrition drinks, clothes and medicines for orphanages, support brick-making projects and provide livestock for widows' cooperatives, and support small agricultural projects. We also help these people search for longer-term programs with collaborators who specialize in nutrition, agriculture and other capacity-building projects.
Our indigenous peoples projects are seed initiatives that focus on providing aid to indigenous people near parks and reserves.
Finally, our civic responsibility projects are initiatives we undertake in the town where we have our African headquarters — Kigali, Rwanda. They include helping the Tujijurane project, which provides financial independence for women through the making of school uniforms and bricks and which also provides a primary school program. We also support the Kigali Public Library Project, which will be the first public library in Rwanda, and a sewing cooperative.