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The Greater Virungas Heartland

  • Saturday, January 1, 2000

Much of this Heartland embraces mountainous rain forests and beautiful crater lakes in the adjoining countries of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Uganda. The region has been caught up in recent years in human battles that have not only taken a severe toll on people but have continuously threatened the mountain gorillas and other rare species living there.

Throughout the civil conflicts, the International Gorilla Conservation Project (IGCP) - a joint project of AWF, Fauna and Flora International and the World Wide Fund for Nature - has provided nonstop support to the region's parks in the remarkable and effective struggle to safeguard the endangered gorillas. Even so, instability remains a threat to the region. In March eight tourists and a park warden were killed by Rwandan Hutu rebel forces in Uganda's Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, the habitat of nearly half of the 620 mountain gorillas in existence. The gorillas were unharmed during this tragic incident and are now monitored daily to assure their safety. The park reopened to tourists in April. In July Rwanda's Volcano National Park, which had been closed for two years because of refugee and military activity in the area, also reopened to tourists. Virunga National Park in Congo remains closed, but IGCP work continues there.

On the front lines of conservation, the IGCP has helped replace equipment lost or stolen during the hostilities, restore damaged facilities and train guards in tracking techniques. Its ranger-based monitoring program collects invaluable data on the mountain gorillas. Rangers are trained to use global positioning systems (GPS) and other methods to chart the ranging habits of gorilla groups.

One of IGCP's chief successes is the transnational cooperation among Congo, Rwanda and Uganda to protect the mountain gorillas and the parks. Despite tensions among the three countries, IGCP brings park staff, government officials and other partners together at meetings every three months to discuss common problems and coordinate activities such as joint patrols and a shared database.

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