Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) announced an unprecedented joint effort to save the critically endangered mountain gorilla
on February 20, 2008. As part of the 10-year Transboundary Strategic Plan
, the countries will develop and adhere to a consistent set of conservation policies and laws in Virunga National Park, which overlaps the three countries and is home to more than half of the world’s 700 remaining mountain gorillas.
In addition to protecting the gorillas, the plan will also seek to promote regional stability and improve the livelihoods of nearby communities. The links between environmental conservation and poverty alleviation are particularly strong in areas close to gorilla habitats, where foreign tourists bring in significant revenue for local communities and national governments. The plan calls for more of the $500-a-person gorilla tracking permit revenue to go to local communities.
The first four years of the plan are being funded by the Dutch government, which Susan Lieberman of the World Wildlife Fund praised for recognizing “that species conservation and sustainable development and poverty alleviation go hand in hand.”
Heavy fighting in the DRC between Congolese troops and ex-general Laurent Nkunda’s rebel soldiers has prevented park rangers from entering Virunga National Park for months at a time. This has left the gorillas vulnerable to poaching and execution-style killings. In addition, the expansion of human settlements has damaged their habitat.