Gorillas in danger of extinction
WASHINGTON - If the people of Congo save the mountain gorilla, might it return the favour?
Environmental activists hope that wildlife conservation and tourism could be the key to survival for people and animals where conflict has been the norm.
Mountain gorillas are gentle giants that range across the borders of Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). These primates are considered extremely endangered, with fewer than 720 in existence.
After a decade of relative calm for these animals - the same cannot be said of the humans - at least 10 have been killed this year.
Arthur Mugisha, manager of the International Gorilla Conservation Programme, said the people of Congo would survive without the mountain gorilla, but may not survive the conflict between government forces and rebels in the Virunga National Forest.
But he said the gorillas' plight was one way to focus attention on the plight of the humans.
"If we were not talking about gorillas the story would be very different," he said. "It would be another group of people who are suffering and dying, and the world continues."
No one knows why mountain gorillas are being killed, but jealousy may play a role, says Craig Sholley, of the African Wildlife Foundation.
Uganda and Rwanda' s gorilla t ourist permits alone account for R100million a year. DRC 's unstable government has been unable to do the same.
"Folks in Congo are jealous," Sholley said.
Fighting in the park has left gorillas unprotected as rangers and civilians flee.
"They live hour by hour, not even day by day, because any time they can die," Mugisha said of the people living in the area.
His programme encourages beekeeping and mushroom cultivation to bring in money.
A trans-boundary strategy to protect mountain gorillas also aims to save the forests where the gorillas live, rather than clearing the trees for cropland.
For those whose fields lie near the forest, gorillas can be a nuisance. So human-gorilla conflict organisations have been set up.
"These gorillas are intelligent and know they are crop raiding," Mugisha said. "So when there is an organised group, we can chase them without harming them."
Though they can appear threatening and are large and strong, mountain gorillas are very timid, Sholley said. -- Reuters