Major milestone for Virunga and mountain gorillas

Posted on 24 September 2015

Gorillas play key role in conservation diplomacy
On Tuesday, September 22, 2015, I sat in Kinshasa and watched ministers from the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda sign a remarkable treaty, witnessed by a senior delegation from Uganda, confirming the commitment of the three countries to work together for the conservation of the Greater Virunga Landscape, writes Anna Behm Masozera, Director of the International Gorilla Conservation Programme.

As pen was being put to paper and speeches made, I reflected on the years - in fact decades - of work by so many people that have made this milestone a reality.

I have been privileged to witness the final steps of the conservation diplomacy that led to the treaty, and I am inspired by the men and women at all levels - from park staff, to civil society groups and government institutions - who have contributed to the process and helped transboundary collaboration reach this new level.

At times, frankly, it meant political and even personal risk to ensure that the tranboundary coordination of conservation and protection activities took place when it was neither a very popular nor well understood concept.

The International Gorilla Conservation Programme developed our niche in aiding practitioners on the ground and in their headquarters to facilitate transboundary coordination in this uncertain environment, allowing for coordinated patrols along the shared international border, which dissects mountain gorilla habitat into three separate parks in three neighboring countries.

Over time, our role has changed, and will continue to change as the Greater Virunga Transboundary Collaboration (GVTC) becomes a fully formalized institution.

It is so rewarding to see this process unfold and watch the transboundary conservation of the Greater Virunga Landscape be institutionalized in something robust and sustainable.

The coordinated activities at grassroots levels, and their contribution to successful efforts to increase the population of mountain gorillas, necessitated the development of a formal, institutionalized arrangement to reinforce their legitimacy and create the enabling environment for staff on the ground.

And now, this treaty, once ratified by all parties and implemented, will provide just that - and so much more. The treaty will not only enable the coordinated activities of the past, but also support landscape planning and the harmonization of policies.

Mountain gorillas themselves have been key ambassadors within this process, due to the value placed on them by the three States, thanks in part to their high profile and the role they play in local and national economies through gorilla tourism.

As the iconic species within Virunga, mountain gorillas featured prominently during the treaty-signing event, while not detracting from all the other equally important and endemic species of fauna and flora they represent.

In addition, the role that fauna and flora, and ecosystems within the Greater Virunga Landscape play in the livelihoods of people and economies of the region was well recognized and a key part of the impetus to conserve this landscape is to enable the sustainable development of communities who depend on it.

Congratulations to the Greater Virunga Transboundary Collaboration, for this milestone achieved, in anticipation of the remaining formalities and the signature of Uganda along with that of the DRC and Rwanda.

Many more milestones to come, as the real work is just about to begin…
Mountain gorillas, Virunga National Park, Democratic Republic of Congo
Mountain gorillas, Virunga National Park, Democratic Republic of Congo.
© Martin Harvey / WWF
Minister of Trade and Industry in Rwanda and Minister of Tourism in DRC, center, exchange copies of the signed treaty with the Head of the Uganda Delegation, Mr. James Lutalo, Commissioner of Wildlife in Uganda, looking on. Kinshasa, DRC. September 22, 2015.
Rangers in Virunga National Park
© Brent Stirton / Reporttage for Getty Images / WWF-Canon
An adult male mountain gorilla in the Virunga Mountains, part of the Albertine Rift Ecoregion; WWF-EARPO