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Conservation in War Zones

  • Sunday, October 1, 2000

Annette Lanjouw knows all about the challenges that conservationists face in areas of armed conflict. Lanjouw directs the International Gorilla Conservation Program (IGCP), which monitors mountain gorillas in the Virunga mountains on the borders of Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo and in Uganda's Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Much of that region has been buffeted in recent years by civil wars and refugee movements that have intensified the threat to the gorillas, and IGCP has taken steps to coordinate gorilla protection throughout the area.

Speaking at the recent conference on "War and Tropical Forests: New Perspectives on Conservation in Areas of Armed Conflict" at Yale University, New Haven, Conn., Lanjouw emphasized the importance of conservation, even in time of war and in areas experiencing armed conflict.

IGCP, a joint project of AWF, Fauna and Flora International and the World Wide Fund for Nature, has successfully continued its conservation work-strengthening field protection of the gorillas-by cooperating with protected-area authorities across international borders and across many sectors of civil society. Protecting mountain gorillas and their habitat is closely linked with human development in a region suffering from severe humanitarian crises, according to Lanjouw.

Throughout the civil conflicts, IGCP has helped pay stipends to park staff members, replace equipment lost or stolen during the hostilities, restore damaged facilities, and train guards in gorilla-tracking techniques. Rangers from the three countries have been taught how to collect invaluable data on the mountain gorillas. They use global positioning systems and other methods to chart the ranging habits of gorilla groups. The collected information helps park wardens manage protection efforts.

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