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Conservation project 4 of 6
Title
Mount Tshiaberimu Conservation Project
Location
Mount Tshiaberimu, DR Congo
Gorillas
Eastern lowland gorillas
Local Partner:   ICCN
Description

Habitat destruction is amongst the greatest threats to the gorillas, with encroachment for farmland and trespassing to collect resources such as water, food and firewood causing major environmental damage. The Mount Tshiaberimu Conservation Project was established in 1996 in conjunction with the Congolese wildlife authority ICCN (Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature) to address these threats and protect the gorillas and their habitat.

The overall objective of the project is to conserve the unique, isolated population of gorillas and their habitat at Mount Tshiaberimu. The specific objectives are:

  • To protect the gorillas through monitoring, habitat patrols and law enforcement
  • To carry out research at Mount Tshiaberimu, gathering information on the gorillas and the biodiversity of the area
  • To support the communities living alongside Mount Tshiaberimu through socio-economic development initiatives, and involve them in conservation efforts

 

Progress

When the Gorilla Organization first started work at Mount Tshiaberimu, there were just 16 gorillas remaining in one isolated population. Since this time, rangers have been patrolling the area to prevent encroachment, trespassing and the setting of traps, while trackers follow the gorillas to monitor their health and behaviour. The collection of stool samples is facilitating DNA analysis, which will help to determine the genetic relatedness of the Tshiaberimu gorillas with populations elsewhere – they are currently considered to be eastern lowlands but may actually be a distinct sub-species. In addition, a great deal of biodiversity research has been carried out at Mount Tshiaberimu, including herpetological and bird surveys, which have demonstrated that the area contains many rare, and in some cases endemic, species.

By 2006, the gorilla population had risen to 21 and the group was thriving. While the project has been very successful, it was unfortunately devastated by the loss of three individuals in 2008; an infant male died when he fell from a tree in a freak accident, and two adult females died from a suggested viral or bacterial infection. In light of these deaths, a workshop on health monitoring was held to ensure staff are able to spot any signs of illness or changes in health, and are prepared should any of the gorillas fall sick. Unfortunately, an old silverback died of natural causes in early 2009, and most recently one of the remaining silverbacks lost his life after falling down a ravine. The gorilla population at Mount Tshiaberimu has therefore once again fallen to just 16, the same as when the Gorilla Organization first started work there. While the losses are both worrying and devastating, the group seems to be recovering well, and it is hoped the remaining adult females will reproduce again before long.

While the security situation in DR Congo is now looking better than it has for some time, the project has been affected by insecurity on a number of occasions, with patrol posts and project staff being attacked, and a ranger killed. Despite the dangers facing staff, they have shown true dedication, maintaining their roles and duties as far as possible, and ensuring the gorillas are safe and well. Support for the communities living alongside Mount Tshiaberimu through socio-economic development initiatives further benefit the project by alleviating poverty, reducing reliance on the forest resources and fostering a positive attitude towards the environment.

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