International Partnership Will Reintroduce Rescued Gorillas in Democratic Republic Congo
September 15, 2008 — The first center in eastern Africa designed to rescue, rehabilitate and reintroduce orphaned gorillas back into the wild will begin construction later this month in the Democratic Republic (DR) of Congo. The center will also include a conservation education and public information program, and will work in partnership with local conservationists and authorities.
The new center is projected to hold up to 30 eastern lowland (Grauer’s) and mountain gorillas and will be located on 370 acres of land within a 1,235-acre forested area near the Tayna Nature Reserve, in Kasugho, North Kivu, a stable region of eastern DR Congo.
The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International initiated the project, which has been granted funding from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and USAID. The Fossey Fund has already been caring for 11 such orphaned gorillas that are victims of poaching and other illegal activities, in temporary facilities in Rwanda and DR Congo, in partnership with the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project.
Eastern lowland gorillas (Gorilla beringei graueri) are classified as “endangered” and mountain gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei) are identified as “critically endangered” by the 2007 World Conservation Union (IUCN) Red List, and experts consider both subspecies at high risk for extinction within several decades.
“This is a critical opportunity for us to help many more young gorillas that have been victimized by unlawful activity or habitat destruction, and also to strengthen our partnership with the people who are the true stewards of the land and the animals,” says Fossey Fund president Clare Richardson. “All gorilla species are threatened with extinction. Both public education and rehabilitation services are critical to their chances for survival.”
“Rescued gorillas require intensive care and specialized psychological rehabilitation if they are ever to contribute to the long-term survival of their species,” says Alecia Lilly, Ph.D., Fossey Fund vice president. “Our decades-long studies of mountain gorillas and ongoing work with eastern lowland gorillas will provide a sound basis for this rehabilitation and socialization process.”
The Fossey Fund will operate the facility in partnership with the Congolese conservation authority ICCN (Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature) and the Pan African Sanctuary Alliance. Also included in the partnership are the Tayna Nature Reserve and Tayna Center for Conservation Biology, the association of community-based gorilla reserves in Congo (UGADEC), Conservation International, the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund and animal experts from Disney’s Animal Programs.
Pan African Sanctuary Alliance (PASA), which represents 18 primate sanctuaries in 12 African countries, will coordinate design and construction of the facility. PASA will also oversee a management team and staff to run the center once it is opened.
“Unfortunately, orphaned gorillas have become a serious problem in eastern Africa,” says Doug Cress, PASA executive director. “With the creation of a specialized center, we will be better able to meet their unique needs and begin to reduce the poaching and illegal trade that has decimated these species.”
The Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund will provide funding toward initial operating expenses for the facility. In addition, experts from Disney’s Animal Programs will provide materials and in-kind services to assist with development and construction of the center, help relocate the current orphaned gorillas and provide educational opportunities for students and the community.
“We are pleased to collaborate with these respected conservation groups to provide staff expertise and funding in the creation of this much-needed facility to rehabilitate young, orphaned gorillas and, ultimately, reintroduce them back into the wild,” says Jackie Ogden, Ph.D., vice president of Disney’s Animal Programs and Environmental Initiatives.
The land for the new center was donated by the Tayna Center for Conservation Biology. The site is adjacent to some 222,000 acres of forest in a fully protected nature reserve.