Gray countries with texture denote areas of future engagement.
Wildlife knows no boundaries. So AWF has defined areas across the continent that are critical to conservation. These Priority Landscapes can cover public and private lands alike and often cross borders.
752,331 hectares (2,904 sq. mi.)
Volcanic mountains and forests in the Virunga Heartland shelter the world’s remaining population of wild mountain gorillas. Spread over the borders of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Rwanda, and Uganda, this astoundingly rich ecosystem is home to chimpanzees, golden monkeys, and forest elephants as well as an array of birds, reptiles, and amphibians.
Wildlife is blind to borders.
Habitat for endangered species in the Virunga Heartland extends beyond the boundaries of national parks and over the borders of DRC, Rwanda, and Uganda. For people living nearby, wildlife poses unique challenges. The area is one of the most densely populated in rural Africa, and most families depend on small-scale agriculture to survive. With farms stretching up to the borders of the parks, wildlife raid local fields to feast. Destroying crops puts the animals in danger of being wounded or killed in retaliation.
Gorillas caught in the middle.
Endangered mountain gorillas are particularly vulnerable when they come into contact with humans. Not only are they threatened by injury (from getting caught in snares set up for antelopes) and poaching, but they are also susceptible to human diseases, from which they have limited natural defense. High-population density in the Virunga Heartland means that mountain gorillas have ample opportunities to meet people—by leaving the park themselves or by encountering humans who enter the park in search of water and other resources.
Our solutions to the challenges in the Virunga Heartland:
Develop the International Gorilla Conservation Programme: a successful collaboration.
The International Gorilla Conservation Programme (IGCP) is a powerful partnership of three international conservation organizations: African Wildlife Foundation, Fauna and Flora International, and WWF. The coalition works directly with communities on the ground and carries out mountain gorilla monitoring and conservation programs.
Build eco-lodges that invest in communities and conservation.
AWF has worked with local people and private-sector partners to design and construct community-owned tourist lodges that benefit the people who share their backyards with mountain gorillas and other wildlife. Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge in Rwanda and Clouds Mountain Gorilla Lodge in Uganda have generated substantial income for local communities through employment, bed-night fees, and tourists’ purchase of local products—funds that communities use to improve roads and housing and to implement local conservation initiatives.
Protect farms, forests, and all their inhabitants.
As part of an IGCP program to collaborate across borders, AWF has supported projects that mitigate the conflict between wildlife and local people. With help from IGCP, communities from DRC, Rwanda, and Uganda worked together to built a stone wall around Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park that would keep buffalo and elephants from crossing into fields and raiding crops. And, to keep people from entering the Heartland’s national parks to fetch water, IGCP helped local communities construct household and communal tanks to harvest and store rainwater.
Take part in conservation efforts that allow gorillas to rebound.
As a result of collaborative conservation efforts, the mountain gorilla population has grown in recent decades. With a minimum of 400 gorillas living in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and 480 in the Virunga Massif, the world mountain gorilla population is at 880 as of 2011—making the mountain gorilla the only great ape in Africa whose population continues to increase.
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