Journal No. 45Article view

DFGF Grauer’s Gorilla Program

Category: Gorilla Journal, Issue 45, Censuses, D. R. Congo, Grauer's Gorillas, Protective measures
Biruwe field technicians (© DFGFI)

Biruwe field technicians (© DFGFI)

The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund In­ter­na­tio­nal (DFGFI) has expanded its efforts in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to build a new Grauer’s Gorilla Conservation and Re­search Program, which is dedicated to research, monitoring, and protection of the Grauer’s (formerly eastern low­land) gorilla. In contrast to mountain gorillas, which have been studied in Rwanda at the Fossey Fund’s Karisoke Research Center for some 45 years, there are fewer habituated Grauer’s groups that researchers can observe in the vast forests of eastern DRC. As a result, much less is known about this subspecies. There is no current census of their population numbers, and ac­cording to some estimates, there may be as few as 4,000 individuals left in the wild.

The Fossey Fund’s new Grauer’s Gorilla Conservation and Research Program in DRC aims to assess the numbers and stability of the current population in the region, as well as to study and protect them. This program is funded through the generosity of the Turner Foundation, the Daniel K. Thorne Foundation and other donors and members of DFGFI.

The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund is working in collaboration with three community-based reserves located between Maïko and Kahuzi-Biega National Parks – Réserve des Gorilles de Utunda et Watsa (REGOUWA), Réserve des Gorilles de Punia (RGPU), and La Conservation Communautaire de la Réserve Forestière de Bakano (COCREFOBA). These reserves form an important ecological corridor between the two national parks and are reported to be home to a significant population of Grauer’s gorillas.

Over the year 2011, the Fossey Fund has made significant steps in building the program’s infrastructure, as well as in collecting data regarding the presence and composition of Grauer’s gorillas in the reserves. Three teams of the Fossey Fund’s Grauer’s Gorilla Conservation and Research Program field technicians completed 30 patrols in the reserves during the course of the year, with the last patrol returning from the field at the end of September 2012. Based on evidence of gorilla presence such as nest sites, dung, and food remains, field staff believe they may have found a group of as many as 35 gorillas in the REGOUWA reserve.

In addition to the patrols, the program also established the Biruwe Research Base, the central operating facility of the program, and three mobile bio-monitoring posts, one in each reserve. Local people were hired as field staff and to construct the Biruwe Research Base, strengthening the program’s ties with the communities in the areas where it works. This is important not only to make conservation efforts sustainable, but also to develop informal information networks, which are essential for exchanging the latest news about security in the region.

Biruwe Research Base is outfitted with state-of-the-art equipment that will allow for direct transmission of data collected in the field to the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund’s primary research facility in Ruhengeri, Rwanda. The Fossey Fund is aiming for an efficient and seamless cycle, which transforms the on-the-ground efforts of tracking, monitoring, and protecting gorillas into cutting-edge scientific knowledge that is also applicable for management and conservation practices. Although the Fossey Fund is still far from being able to habituate Grauer’s gorilla groups for research, it plans to begin identifying individual gorilla groups from which it can collect data on ranging patterns and demography. In the meantime, the work that the organization has done to build the infrastructure of the program has been the fundamental step to expanding its activities in DRC.

The landscape of DRC is challenging in and of itself, as all three bio-monitoring posts and the Biruwe Research Base are located in extremely remote areas that are difficult, and in some cases impossible, to access by car. The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund has also faced the additional challenges brought on by the current crisis in Congo, which flared up in May 2012. Nevertheless, the Fossey Fund’s experienced field staff were successful in navigating the logistical obstacles and political unrest to achieve all of the program’s goals for this year.

Another reason DFGFI’s Grauer’s Gorilla Conservation and Research Program is essential to gorilla conservation in the region is to combat the continuing problem of illegal gorilla trafficking. In September, the Fossey Fund was involved in the confiscation of two infant Grauer’s gorillas. It is believed that both of them originated in North Kivu province, where the community reserves they work in are located, marking this area as an epicenter of gorilla trafficking in the region. Currently, the Fossey Fund is supporting the care of these two infant females by funding their caregivers, food, and supplies at the Senkwekwe Sanctuary for mountain gorillas. The infants will remain in quarantine at Senkwekwe until they can be safely transferred to the Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education (GRACE) center for Grauer’s gorillas.

GRACE was created at the urging of Congo’s wildlife authority (ICCN) on land donated by the Tayna Center for Conservation Biology, adjacent to the Tayna Nature Reserve in eastern Congo. The center was initiated by the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, with funding from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; design and construction assistance from The Walt Disney Company’s Animal Programs; and technical expertise from PASA. GRACE is a conservation project of DFGFI’s Gorilla Council, and overseen by GRACE Governing Council members including The Walt Disney Company, the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, Dallas Zoo, Denver Zoo, and Houston Zoo. Future plans call for GRACE to become an independent nonprofit organization registered in the USA and the DRC.

October 2012 has been a time for the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund to both reflect on its achievements in DRC and to reckon with ongoing challenges, especially in light of the two orphaned gorillas that came into the organization’s care last month. The Fossey Fund hopes that a dual program of research, monitoring, and protection, which builds on what has been learned through 45 years of researching and protecting mountain gorillas in Rwanda, coupled with rehabilitation of infants who are victims of poaching, will be the key to conserving and learning about the Grauer’s gorilla.

Urbain Ngobobo

 

The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund Needs Support in Congo

At the beginning of October, we received a mail from Urbain Ngobobo, the new DFGFI country Director for the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He wrote:

We are currently based in the bush, in one of the community based reserves where we have established a Grauer’s Go­rilla Research and Conservation base. For that we are hiring local field technicians who receive from us regular food for patrols, a prime, equipment including uniform, vehicles, inflatable boat, sleeping bags, raincoat, and others. Is there a chance to have support from Berggorilla in term of field technician equipment, such as sleeping bags, raincoat, boots, torch­es, GPS, Camera or whatever you can fund?

The Grauer's gorilla is classi­fied as one of the 25 most endangered primates. Conserva­tion of this gorilla subspecies in areas that are not protected by the goverment is essential.

In the meantime, we transferred US$ 1,000 to the project, but of course this is only a small portion of what is needed. You can either donate to us with the keyword "DFGFI" or to DFGFI directly.