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Year of the Gorilla

Congo Brazzaville in the “dock” over gorilla poaching

Wolfgang H. Thome, eTN Africa  Sep 29, 2009

The conservation horror story of last week, when the BBC’s investigative journalists reported a significant increase in the slaughter of the western lowland gorillas in Congo Brazzaville for trophies and game meat trade, has generated further outraged.

As promised, the chair of the executive committee of the Great Apes Survival Project (GRASP) will give his views on this situation.

Moses Mapesa, the executive director of the Uganda Wildlife Authority in Kampala, said: “Uganda has been able to share information on gorilla conservation and tourism. Once communities realize economic benefits from conservation of gorillas such as eco-tourism they stop habitat destruction and poaching of the gorillas. This has been demonstrated in Uganda, Rwanda and eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.”

Again Uganda is a member of Leadership for Conservation Africa (LCA) that brings together conservation agencies in Africa and the business community. Through this initiative it has been agreed that Odzala National Park that has the largest population of lowland gorillas will be assisted by The Platner Foundation and Wildlife Frontiers to establish a number of eco-tourism facilities. There is very [big] interest from the government of Congo [Brazzaville] and the LCA is playing a catalytic role. Uganda offered opportunities for a study tour by the Congolese to learn from our hands on experience.

By showcasing the economic benefits of gorilla conservation that far out weigh the bush meat consumption and trade, certainly the poaching will effectively be checked.

Already the timber concessionaires are reported to be more responsive to habitat management through selective logging as opposed to clear felling.

And some of the companies have agreed to contribute more directly to conservation. So in my opinion as GRASP member and chair of the Executive Committee, I am optimistic that conservation of the lowland gorillas will too be a success.

The recognition by UN of the gorilla by declaring 2009 as the “Year of the Gorilla” is a further boost.

GRASP has planned a football league for the year of the gorilla just before the World Cup to highlight the plight of the gorillas especially in the West African and Central African range states that are incidentally very good “footballing” nations. The argument being that the same excellence exhibited in football too be exhibited in conservation.

International lobbying and pressure on the Congo Brazzaville government is now needed to engage them and have them take active conservation measures, as outlined by Moses Mapesa. His input shows that indeed there can be hope but it will be a rocky road ahead to turn poachers into game wardens and create a success story similar to what has been achieved in Uganda and Rwanda.

Congo Brazzaville in the “dock” over gorilla poaching
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