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In DRC, Conservationists Form Network to Protect Great Apes

  • Tuesday, April 22, 2014
  • Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo
CyberTracker training at Lomako

AWF Biologist Alain Lushimba (center) trains protected area practitioners on the use of the CyberTracker bio-monitoring tool. Photo: Johannes Refisch/GRASP

Workshop and field-based training in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) mark the first step in fostering greater collaboration, transparency, and information sharing between key stakeholders in countries with at-risk great ape populations.

The illegal pet trade, bushmeat trade, habitat loss, and disease are some of the primary threats facing Africa’s great apes, which include chimpanzees, bonobos, mountain gorillas, and lowland gorillas. In countries where key great ape populations exist, wildlife authorities, conservation groups, and research scientists are working to safeguard great apes and their habitat. In order to better coordinate and maximize their efforts, the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF), with support from the Arcus Foundation and the Great Apes Survival Partnership (GRASP) organized a two-day workshop in Kinshasa on April 8th and 9th, followed by a seven-day anti-poaching and bio-monitoring training exercise in the Lomako-Yokokala Faunal Reserve. Protected area authorities, NGO and research university representatives, field-based ecologists, and park wardens from Cameroon, Senegal, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) participated in the program, hosted by DRC’s wildlife authority, Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN).

“The great ape populations in these countries face very serious threats to their survival,” said Jef Dupain, technical director for African Wildlife Foundation’s (AWF’s) great apes program. “We all want to protect them and their habitat but too often protected area authorities, NGO’s, and scientists working in the same area may not communicate or coordinate their efforts with one another. This was about finding solutions for better partnership, communication, and greater transparency, not only to improve effectiveness but also to avoid duplicating our efforts.”

According to AWF Congo Landscape Director Charly Facheux, the workshop successfully brought together a diverse group of stakeholders.

“Action plans for each country were developed which will strengthen existing partnerships and foster new ones,” said Facheux. “The plans will help maximize our strengths, minimize our weaknesses, and take advantage of the opportunities presented by the legal, social, and economic environment for better protection of apes.”

Arcus Foundation’s Annette Lanjouw, who facilitated the workshop in Kinshasa and serves as the foundation’s vice president of strategic initiatives and great apes program, commended AWF for trying to forge better partnerships between different stakeholders in Senegal, Cameroon, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“Effective partnerships are a critical and necessary element for conservation to be effective and lasting,” said Lanjouw. “Everybody worked extremely hard to ensure transparency and collaboration.” 

Following the conclusion of the workshop, a team of ecologists, researchers, wardens, and ICCN rangers, along with representatives from AWF and GRASP, traveled to the Lomako-Yokokala Faunal Reserve, a community-owned reserve established in 2006 with the help of AWF to protect the endangered bonobo, one of Africa’s four great apes. There they met with ICCN rangers and engaged in an overnight anti-poaching and bio-monitoring exercise using Trimble CyberTrackers.

“It was a great experience,” said AWF Biologist Alain Lushimba, who led the CyberTracker training at the reserve. “The guys from the other countries were able to experience the challenges of working in a remote, swampy, humid landscape. In spite of these challenges, they were very impressed that they found no sign of poachers during their overnight exercise in the forest. It shows that the partnership between AWF and ICCN in Lomako is working.”

“I was very happy to see people from different countries come together to field test a new bio-monitoring tool,” said Johannes Refisch, program manager for GRASP, which funded the seven-day training exercise in the Lomako reserve. “Apart from the technical exercise, though, we hope that by bringing park managers, NGO people, and practitioners together, we’ll form a kind of informal network where people can approach one another and ask for advice, because most of us share all the same threats in the forest.”

Participants at the meeting and field training represented five critical great ape landscapes: Niokolo-Koba National Park in Senegal; Dja Biosphere Reserve in Cameroon; and the Maringa Lopori Wamba landscape, Bili-Uele Protected Area Complex, and Virunga National Park in DRC. Spread throughout these landscapes are key populations of Africa’s great apes, which include chimpanzees, mountain gorillas, lowland gorillas, and bonobos.

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