WWF in Kahuzi-Biega
The eastern lowland gorilla (Gorilla beringei graueri)
is only found in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), but it is estimated that more than 50% of the population disappeared during the last war. The stronghold of the species is in Kahuzi-Biega National Park
, a World Heritage Site in eastern DRC where WWF has a field project.
There, WWF works with the Wildlife Conservation Society
- Carry out surveys: These contribute to the review and updating of the park’s existing Managament Plan.
- Train staff from the Congolese Institute for Nature (ICCN) to monitor gorillas and chimpanzees: Biological data, gorilla and chimpanzee locations, forest cover distribution, park boundaries as well as fragile habitat are being recorded. Socio-economic data is also being captured.
- Build the capacity of ICCN to reduce poaching: WWF supports the training of park guards in anti-poaching and effective law enforcement practices.
- Rehabilitate key infrastructures in the lowland sector of the park: Patrol posts are being rehabilitated and park boundaries demarcated.
Hurdles along the way
In Kahuzi-Biega, funding is tight and the context is difficult to operate in. Under these circumstances, pushing the agenda of a conservation project can sometimes feel quite daunting.
Persistent insecurity, impassable roads, insufficient scientific equipment, illegal mining, people encroachment, lack of capacity are just some of the constraints faced by park authorities and WWF project staff. But WWF’s achievements in the area suggest we are making steady progress.
Taking back the park
When the DRC descended into chaos during the last war, significant areas of Kahuzi-Biega were taken over by different groups of rebels.
Through increased patrols, WWF and partners are slowly bringing this ‘lost’ area back under the control of the park authority - with worthwhile results. Now, more eastern lowland gorillas are being monitored by the project, shedding insight into their behavioural patterns and requirements.
Defusing tension on park boundaries
The boundaries of Kahuzi-Biega are a contentious issue. In the lowland sector of the park, a technical committee is involving local actors to clarify park boundary establishment and maintenance, as part of the conflict resolution process.
Expanding the protected area system
Efforts are also under way to assign protected area status to Itombwe Forest, an area of exceptional biodiversity which also harbours lowland gorillas. There WWF is conducting socio-economic surveys and engaging with traditional authorities and villages to find the best way to gazette the area under the new Forest Code, with the support of local communities.
Thanks to these socio-economic and land rights studies, along with proposed alternative activities for the people, WWF is in the process to clearly identify the area and assess its legal status. This involves the participation of decision-makers, local and park authorities and the government.