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Conservation project 5 of 6
Title
Walikale Gorilla and Forest Conservation Project
Location
Walikale Territory, DR Congo
Gorillas
Eastern lowland gorillas
Local Partner:   Walikale Committee (RCGW) and PROMIDEWAL
Description

With fewer than 3,000 individuals remaining, the eastern lowland gorilla is in danger of extinction, with habitat disturbance and destruction among the main threats to its survival. To protect the biodiversity of the Walikale forest, DR Congo – home to one of the largest remaining eastern lowland gorilla populations – the surrounding communities held meetings in 2001 to establish the Walikale Community Gorilla Reserve, a forest measuring some 70,000 hectares. In 2002, the Walikale Committee invited the Gorilla Organization to support their initiative and as a result project implementation began in March 2003.

The overall goal is to preserve the Walikale forest ecosystem and raise awareness within local populations 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 have it officially registered as a community forest reserve, thereby affording it the necessary protection according to DR Congo’s Forestry Code.
  • 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.

  

The Gorilla Organization is grateful to the Tusk Trust and to the Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund for their considerable support of this project.

Progress

The project currently has a total of 34 trackers who have been surveying the gorillas, as well as other fauna and flora, to gather the data required to secure legal protection for the reserve. Overall they have now identified a total of 734 gorillas in 79 families.

The trackers have been trained in the use of GPS units and are in the process of collecting coordinates to build a comprehensive map of the reserve, as well as indicating the location of identified gorilla groups. Because of the ongoing insecurity in DR Congo, some sectors of the reserve have been inaccessible due to the presence of rebel troops. However, over the past year the rebels have moved into different locations, meaning that the trackers have been able to expand surveys into previously inaccessible areas. They also collect gorilla faecal samples for DNA analysis, which will allow the genetic relatedness between the gorillas at Walikale and those elsewhere to be compared.  

Community-based education and livelihood support are vital if the project is to succeed, so alongside the Walikale Committee, the Gorilla Organization works with local NGO PROMIDEWAL (Programme Minimum pour le Développement de Walikale) to deliver an education campaign in the villages around the reserve. Informal talks with the local people discuss the importance of the forest and gorillas, and thanks to ongoing awareness-raising, the level of trapping in the reserve is steadily declining. The project also supports primary education by providing teaching materials and paying the salaries of local teachers, and PROMIDEWAL has constructed two basic primary schools in local villages. Supporting the community in this way further improves their standards of living and secures their support in the protection of the reserve. 

During 2009, surveys of the reserve will continue, gradually expanding into un-surveyed areas as and when this becomes possible. Trackers will receive supplementary GPS training and will also continue to collect faecal samples for DNA analysis. Recruitment of a second research assistant will improve the quality of data being collected and the scientific analysis carried out. Work with PROMIDEWAL will continue, with the focus remaining on awareness-raising and involving the communities in conservation, and the project will help to maintain the local road network, facilitating movement around the reserve and further benefiting the local communities.

 

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