Eastern lowland gorilla (Gorilla beringei graueri)
Mohamed bin Zayed Species project number 12253596
The Gorilla Organization
Established in 1989, the Gorilla Organization's mission is to secure the survival of the world's last gorillas in the wild. Its objectives are: to support gorilla protection efforts and habitat conservation; to provide communities with sustainable alternative resources to those from gorilla habitat; to alleviate poverty and develop livelihoods within these communities; and to raise awareness of environmental issues.
The Walikale Gorilla and Forest Conservation Project
Eastern lowland gorillas (Gorilla beringei graueri) have been adversely affected by human activity for many years, with instability, civil war and poverty all contributing towards a significant population reduction over the past three decades. It is estimated that numbers have declined by over 75% in the past ten years alone, and there are now fewer than 3,000 individuals remaining. The most dominant threat to their survival is habitat destruction.
In communities living alongside the gorilla habitat, the vast majority of families throughout DR Congo rely on firewood and charcoal for cooking and heating their houses, and the country's forests provide a steady supply of fuel. Trespassing to collect firewood and other resources such as food and water, the escalating charcoal trade and encroachment to convert forest into farmland all cause huge environmental damage, while mining and hunting also have a detrimental effect. Together, these activities are fragmenting and destroying the gorilla habitat.
Despite this, Walikale Territory has vast tracts of pristine rainforest with high levels of biodiversity and may be the most important remaining stronghold for eastern lowland gorillas. The Walikale Gorilla and Forest Conservation Project began in 2001 due to the efforts of local communities who were keen to protect their local biodiversity and preserve the gorilla habitat for future generations. This led to the establishment of the 70,000 hectare Walikale Community Gorilla Reserve and the inception of a committee that invited the Gorilla Organization to support its initiative in 2003.
The aim of the project is to preserve the Walikale forest ecosystem and raise awareness on the importance of environmental conservation. The specific objectives are as follows:
• Conduct a thorough census of the forest's gorillas and other fauna and flora.
• Demarcate the reserve and produce an extensive map of the area.
• Develop a management plan that involves the local community at every level.
• Increase community awareness of environmental issues.
• Support the socio-economic development of the local community, providing alternatives to the unsustainable use of forest resources.
Collecting data on the gorillas and other wildlife is one of the most important aspects of the project. Sixteen trackers carry out daily monitoring patrols, counting the number of gorilla nests they observe and recording their locations using GPS units. This is helping to build a map of the reserve indicating the areas in which gorillas are present. To date, a total of 734 gorillas in 79 groups have been identified. Once the gorillas have been located each day, the trackers observe their health and behaviour, noting any changes or concerns. The collection of stool samples facilitates DNA analysis, which will help classify the relatedness of the Walikale gorillas to others in DR Congo, while also making it possible to investigate any potentially harmful parasites. As well as observing gorillas, the trackers also monitor the Walikale chimpanzee populations as fully as possible, though this often proves difficult as, despite hearing a large number of individuals calling to each other, these apes are incredibly evasive and sightings of them are rare. In addition to keeping a close watch on the fauna and flora of the reserve, the trackers are also responsible for removing traps and snares set by poachers. While these are set for antelope and other small mammals and are not intended to harm the gorillas, it is nonetheless possible for the gorillas to accidentally get caught up and hurt or even killed.
The ongoing insecurity in eastern DR Congo has resulted in rebel groups sheltering in the reserve, meaning that some sectors are currently inaccessible to the trackers. However, efforts by the Congolese and Rwandan armies over the past few years have eliminated many of these groups and the situation is no longer as perilous as it once was. While the threat of danger is ever-present and incidences of theft from vehicles traveling on roads surrounding the reserve are relatively common, the trackers are committed to protecting the fauna and flora of the reserve and will expand their monitoring surveys as and when this becomes possible.
Engaging local communities in conservation efforts through awareness-raising activities is vital if the project is to achieve its aims. The Walikale team holds meetings with village chiefs, discussing the impact human pressure can have on the gorillas and why they must do all they can to encourage families to stay out of the forests. To further support sensitisation, a radio transmitter was recently installed in the region to facilitate ecological radio broadcasts across Walikale and nearby Pinga, and screenings of an environmental documentary are regularly held to educate local communities on the causes and consequences of deforestation. The latter has already reached an estimated 10,000 people and both the radio and film shows are proving to be a great advocacy tool, ensuring that those living alongside the Walikale Reserve are informed about conservation issues and encouraged to join in with efforts to safeguard the gorilla.
Project 12253596 location - Congo, Democratic Republic of (Congo-Kinshasa), Africa