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Gorilla conservation in Africa - October 2009      
HSI

hsi supports gorilla conservation in africa 

OCTOBER 2009
In 1991, the International Gorilla Conservation Programme (IGCP) was formed with the aim of protecting mountain gorillas and their habitat in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Rwanda and Uganda. Only approximately 700 mountain gorillas survive in two isolated subpopulations: Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda and the Virunga massif straddling the border between, DRC, Rwanda and Uganda.

In 2007, an escalation in conflict and insecurity in the Democratic Republic of Congo seriously threatened the endangered mountain gorilla population in the Mikeno sector of the Virunga National Park, a World Heritage Site. Thousands of local people fled the fighting in the vicinity of the park, including park rangers, and in the aftermath at least 10 gorillas were killed.

In October 2007, as a result of funding provided by Humane Society International (HSI), Fauna & Flora International (FFI) was able to provide emergency relief to displaced rangers and their families and support them until they were able to return to their posts. HSI funding was critical in providing support to park rangers at a critical time. Since then, the security situation has improved and the first survey of gorillas since the killings, conducted in January 2009, has shown that the number of habituated gorillas in the Mikeno sector surged from 72 at the time of the killings to 81 in the 18 months subsequent to that, with 9 babies born during that period.

Yet significant threats remain. In January 2009 alone, rangers removed more than 500 wire snares from the Mikeno sector. Although primarily laid to capture buffalo or antelope for food, these snares are indiscriminate and many gorillas have lost hands or feet due to snaring. Further threats such as reduction in habitat through charcoal production or encroachment into the national parks, wildfires, and disease endanger the vulnerable gorilla populations. Continued support from HSI has enabled FFI to move from emergency relief to addressing longer-term conservation issues.

This report from FFI provides an update on these activities.

Democratic Republic of Congo

A positive development during this reporting period was the return of peace to eastern DRC following negotiations between the warring factions, brokered under the auspices of the African Union (AU) and United Nations (UN). Under the peace deal, the rebels agreed to be integrated under the government forces and in turn the government of DRC agreed to cooperate with its neighbours and the United National to disarm the rebel forces of the Interahamwe. IGCP continued to support implementation of activities under the emergency plan for Virunga National Park (PNVi), which was formulated together with L'Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN) management in November 2008. This plan was entirely funded by IGCP with the support of a number of donors, including HSI, to allow ICCN management to resume conservation activities in the Mikeno sector. The plan prioritised five main elements:

  1. Undertake a survey of mountain gorillas to assess the current status of the habituated Mikeno mountain gorilla population
  2. Enhance the anti-poaching program and reinforce the gorilla and ecosystem monitoring program
  3. Undertake an equipment and training needs assessment for ICCN staff
  4. Support a minimum ICCN ranger outposts rehabilitation program
  5. Conduct a sensitisation program towards different stakeholders, including local leaders, rebel groups, government army and officials.

The ICCN rangers therefore resumed their normal patrols in the Mikeno sector and Sarambwe Forest Reserve, where local hunters had taken advantage of the absence of rangers to lay large numbers of wire snares. In one such patrol in the month of January more than 500 snares were removed from Mikeno sector.

Rwanda

The decision by the Rwanda Government to create the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) which brought together 8 institutions including IGCP's main partner, the Rwanda Office for Tourism and National Parks (ORTPN), officially came into force at the beginning of 2009. During this quarter, ORTPN made the physical move from its former offices to the new offices and is now adjusting as a department of the RDB in charge of Tourism and Conservation of National Parks and other protected areas for tourism activities. As a transition period for ORTPN, there are some challenges that are translated into the implementation of field activities. However, IGCP Rwanda continued to support PNV management in implementing different activities in collaboration with local authorities and neighbouring communities.

Regional activities

In addition, cross-border patrols that had been suspended due to insecurity resumed between Virunga National Park (PNVi) in DRC and Volcanoes National Park (PNV) in Rwanda, as well as in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park (MGNP) in Uganda. Between November 2008 and January 2009, a survey was done of all habituated gorilla groups in the Mikeno sector of Virunga National Park and it was ascertained that, apart from the initial deaths, the fighting had caused little impact on the gorilla population in the area. The survey revealed a total of 81 habituated gorillas in the Mikeno sector, showing an increase of 9 individuals from the 72 individuals counted in August 2007. This number has continued to grow with 4 births in the gorilla groups since then. Rangers recorded the death of Kidole, a female adult from Lulengo group, and two young gorillas died during interactions. Routine daily monitoring of the gorillas has now resumed.

For a number of years IGCP has been working on developing a regional approach to gorilla conservation. The institutionalisation of the Great Virunga Trans-boundary Secretariat made a significant step when the three ministers from the respective countries signed the minute requesting the Government of Rwanda to register the Secretariat as an Inter-state agency in the short term, and pledging to finalise a conclusive treaty institutionalising the secretariat within two years from the date of signing. The fact that these sometimes antagonistic countries have been able to work together for gorilla conservation is an extremely positive development.

Other activities

Throughout this reporting period IGCP, through the generous support of donors including HSI, has been able to continue supporting the protected area authorities through the provision of equipment, training, support to gorilla habituation monitoring, the construction of Nkuringo (Uganda) and Bukima (DRC) outposts, coordinated patrols, and Training Needs Assessments which were completed for protected area staff.

Believing that supporting local communities with alternative livelihoods and reducing their dependence on natural resources from within the protected areas is beneficial for gorilla conservation, IGCP supported local governments/CBOs/UWA in the implementation of Revenue Sharing programmes and strengthened community interventions through enterprises such as the launching of Clouds Mountain Gorilla lodge in Uganda and support to Sabyinyo Lodge (and Sabyinyo Community Livelihoods Association). IGCP has also been streamlining enterprise activities and the way they work with CBOs, supporting HuGo (Human-Gorilla Conflict teams) and extension workers, or ' Animateurs de la Conservation' ANICO'  members through training, and HuGo data analysis. In Kisoro (southwest Uganda) and in areas adjacent to PNV (Rwanda) IGCP successfully continued with the construction of rain water harvesting tanks at the community level, reducing the need for people to enter the gorilla forests to look for water. Human-wildlife conflict in the areas adjacent to the national parks has been reduced through construction of buffalo walls. During the year under review, construction/maintenance of the buffalo wall in Mikeno sector was completed for over a 5.3 km stretch, with the height of the wall being raised to 1.5m to reduce the incidence of animals climbing over. Together with the stakeholders, the tourism planning process for the new tourism areas in Bwindi has been initiated and IGCP has continued support to the trans-boundary collaboration through the Transboundary Executive Secretariat (TES).

Humane Society International is proud to support the wonderful efforts of the International Gorilla Conservation Programme during a critical period in the aftermath of the gorilla killings, and their continuing conservation work.
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Image courtesy of Fauna & Flora International.





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