New steps in conservation mountain gorilla

Virunga, baby gorillaThe three countries home to mountain gorillas have agreed on new measures to conserve the critically endangered animals. They also made decisions to maximize the economic benefits these great apes bring to local communities.

National park officials from Rwanda, Uganda and Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) have renewed their joint commitment to protect gorilla habitat spanning their shared borders, and recognized the importance of attracting tourists for lucrative gorilla treks.

Mountain gorillas are the only type of great ape in the world that are experiencing an increase in number, yet only about 880 individuals were counted at the last census. Gorilla family groups in each of the range countries have been habituated to the presence of people, and can be visited on carefully controlled tours.

“A portion of the revenue from gorilla tourism is shared with the communities surrounding the animals’ habitats. This creates a strong incentive to protect the animals and the natural setting where they live,” said David Greer, WWF’s African great ape expert. “Visitors also spend money Virunga, gorilla toerismeelsewhere during their trip, and that helps the national economy as a whole.”

In Rwanda and Uganda the tourism industry, largely linked to mountain gorillas, accounts for about 8-9 percent of total gross domestic products, World Bank data shows. Gorilla tourism in DRC’s Virunga National Park recently reopened after a period of instability wracked the region. An independent economic analysis of the park found that tourism in Virunga has the potential to reach an estimated value of US$235 million per year.

There is trouble awaiting this World Heritage site, for 85 per cent of Virunga National Park has been allocated as oil concessions. Mountain gorilla habitat has been spared, but if oil extraction were to occur, the park’s critical ecosystems and rare species could be put at risk.

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This article is based primarily on information of the World Wildlife Fund. WWF strongly opposes the exploration plans of UK oil company Soco International PLC, which intends to start seismic testing in the park. The organisation has opened a petition against the plans, which you can sign here

WWF is a member of the International Gorilla Conservation Programme, a coalition of WWF and Flora and Fauna International. They work closely with the governments of all three mountain gorilla range countries.

Credits for the photo of the baby mountain gorilla go to Bruce Davidson/WWF. Credits for the photo of gorilla tourism go to Martin Harvey/WWF.

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