UN meeting pushes for stronger measures to protect gorillas

Advocacy | 1/04/11

Original press release from the United Nations Environmental Program can be found here.

An international meeting organized by the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals under the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP/CMS) called for better enforcement of wildlife law in the ten countries in Africa with gorilla populations.

For the first time ever, UN agencies, national governments in the region, local wildlife authorities, non-governmental organizations and international experts came together this week at a two-day meeting in Kigali, Rwanda, to deal with wildlife crime threatening endangered gorillas.

Government officials, the Great Apes Survival Partnership (GRASP), INTERPOL, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) as well as the wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC, among others, joined CMS in reviewing the current conservation activities affecting the four sub-species of gorillas in East and Central Africa, and discussed solutions to address the major threat of commercial poaching for bushmeat and live trade in gorillas.

CMS Executive Secretary Elizabeth Maruma Mrema said: “Joint efforts to apply wildlife law are important because gorillas play a key role in the ecology of Africa’s forests. Their loss has an impact on the health of the whole ecosystem and, by extension, on everyone who lives in or benefits from these forests.”

Local, national and international law enforcement efforts are essential to protect gorillas and their rainforest habitat. The UN is already working closely with INTERPOL and national governments to curb the trade in live apes, bushmeat as well as the illegal harvesting of timber. INTERPOL offered its global network of national offices to help combat wildlife crime relating to gorilla and other endangered species.

“A global response is required against environmental and wildlife crime, and in this endeavor it is important for all countries to work through a multi-disciplinary approach that also uses INTERPOL’s established National Central Bureau network and its Environmental Crime Programme to communicate intelligence and to provide support in capacity building efforts,” said Bernd Rossbach, the Director of INTERPOL’s Specialized Crime Unit.

The meeting, which ended on 30 March, concluded that transboundary collaboration, coordination with UN peace-building missions, such as MONUSCO, and law enforcement agencies must be strengthened, with increased resources and training for law enforcement personnel and rangers. Orphan gorillas were already moved to a sanctuary with help from MONUSCO in July 2010 to combat the illegal cross-border trade in baby gorillas.

The CMS Agreement on the Conservation of Gorillas and their Habitats, which came into force in 2008, provides the framework for regional cooperation in the long-term protection of gorillas in the ten countries of the Congo Basin, ranging from Nigeria in the west, to Angola in the south and Uganda in the east. So far it has been signed by six range states, namely the Central African Republic, Republic of Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Gabon, Nigeria and Rwanda.

The collaboration is building on earlier success stories. While gorilla populations across Africa are in decline, the numbers of two small populations of mountain gorillas in, DRC, Rwanda and Uganda are now on the rise.

Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda have been engaged in a trilateral transboundary regional cooperation across the Virunga Mountains since 1999, including the Virunga National Park on the Congo side, which is the oldest National Park in Africa. Both Virunga and Bwindi National Park in Uganda are UNESCO World Heritage Sites and the two remaining mountain gorilla parks — Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park and Uganda’s Mgahinga NP — have been proposed. The trilateral arrangement is one of the most successful examples for transboundary collaboration with some revenues from gorilla tourism shared between the countries.

According to the latest mountain gorilla census published in December 2010, the Virunga mountain gorilla population in DR Congo, Rwanda and Uganda has increased to 480 animals, a boost of 25 percent since the last count in 2003. A total of 786 mountain gorillas were counted in all three countries, including Uganda’s Bwindi National Park and the adjoining Sarambwe Forest in DR Congo. This positive population trend is the best indicator for successful conservation work.

Responsible wildlife tourism can be an important conservation tool and boost the national economy at the same time. In addition to conserving gorillas and their rainforest habitat, generating jobs and combating poverty, gorilla tourism has sparked a multi-million-dollar boom, contributing substantially to the Green Economy in Rwanda and Uganda.

CMS explores options how to replicate this transboundary approach across Sangha Tri-national, Tridom in the Congo Basin, Central Africa, and the Cross River area shared by Cameroon and Nigeria. Here, the critically endangered Cross River Gorilla with fewer than 300 individuals remains in need of urgent help.

CMS continues to support regional efforts, which were initiated during the Year of the Gorilla 2009, to fight the illegal trade in endangered species. Earlier this year, the Gabonese Government, assisted by the charity Conservation Justice and partially funded by CMS, achieved what might be the biggest arrest related to ape poaching yet in Africa. Thirteen heads and 32 hands of gorillas and chimpanzees were confiscated from five wildlife smugglers, along with the remains of elephants, leopards, lions and other endangered species. The smugglers are all awaiting trial in Gabon. CMS continues to support similar projects, which help governments to enforce their laws. The Rwandan Minister of

Environment and Lands, Stanislas Kimanzi, concluded: “The meeting has sent a clear message to all those involved in gorilla poaching and illegal trade: wildlife traffickers will be arrested in the ten countries covered by the CMS Agreement. Gorillas are worth more alive in the forest than dead on a butcher’s slab or suffering in a cage.”

For more information please contact:

Veronika Lenarz, UNEP/CMS Secretariat, tel: +49 (0)228 815 2409, e-mail:Veronika Lenarz <vlenarz@cms.int>

Melanie Virtue, Coordinator CMS Gorilla Agreement, UNEP/CMS Secretariat, tel: +49 172 27 31 764, e-mail: Melanie Virtue <MVirtue@cms.int>

Ian Redmond, CMS Ambassador, tel. +44 7769743975, email: ele@globalnet.co.uk

Notes to Editors:

The Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (UNEP/CMS) works for the conservation of a wide array of endangered migratory animals worldwide through the negotiation and implementation of agreements and action plans. CMS is a fast-growing convention with special importance due to its expertise in the field of migratory species. At present, 115 countries are parties to the Convention. The CMS Agreement on the Conservation of Gorillas and Their Habitats entered into force in June 2008. The Agreement area covers Angola, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Republic of Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo), Gabon, Nigeria, Rwanda and Uganda.

The Great Apes Survival Partnership (GRASP) is a strategic alliance of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) which aims to lift the threat of imminent extinction faced by gorillas (Gorilla beringei, G. gorilla), chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes), bonobos (Pan paniscus) and orangutans (Pongo abelii, P. pygmaeus) across their ranges in equatorial Africa and south-east Asia. The GRASP-Grid Arendal- INTERPOL report “The Last Stand of the Gorilla – Environmental Crime and Conflict in the Congo Basin”, published in 2010, calls for more concerted efforts fight environmental crime. http://www.grida.no/publications/rr/gorilla/

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is an international agreement between governments. Its aim is to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants is sustainable, legal and traceable. It has a membership of 175 countries.

INTERPOL It is the world’s largest international police organization, with 188 member states. The mission of INTERPOL’s Environmental Crime Programme is to assist its member countries in the effective enforcement of national and international environmental laws and treaties. It targets wildlife crime. www.interpol.org

TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, works to ensure that trade in wild plants and animals is not a threat to the conservation of nature. A central aim of TRAFFIC’s activities is to contribute to the wildlife trade-related priorities of its partners IUCN and WWF. TRAFFIC also works in close co-operation with CITES. www.traffic.org

Further related links for UNEP website:
www.yog2009.org http://www.un.org/en/peacekeeping/missions/monusco/index.shtml
www.unodc.org www.conservation-justice.org www.4apes.com/gorilla

The International Gorilla Conservation Programme (IGCP) currently consists of Conservation International, Fauna & Flora International and the World Wide Fund for Nature. We recognise that the earth's survival is dependent on humanity's ability to maintain a healthy and balanced environment that includes all species of wildlife.