A United Nations-supported expert team probing the recent slaughter of nine mountain gorillas in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) today wrapped up its visit to the country by stressing that local communities must be central to efforts to preserve the endangered species and to any profitable activities related to the primates.
The mission spent 11 days in the DRC meeting Congolese Government ministers, lawmakers, UN peacekeeping officials, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), local community leaders and traditional chiefs, wildlife groups and rangers at Virunga National Park, where the gorillas live.
In a press statement released by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) after the visit, the mission members said the Congolese authorities, local communities and the UN peacekeeping mission (MONUC) all agreed on the need to play their part to ensure the survival of the estimated 370 remaining gorillas in Virunga.
DRC National Assembly President Vital Kamerhe, who met the mission members, quoted President Joseph Kabila as saying he was determined to “champion conservation,” while both Environment Minister Didace Pembe and MONUC chief William Lacy Swing emphasized the need to preserve the mountain gorilla and other endangered species given their potential value to the local economy.
The expert team also “observed the importance of including local communities in efforts to preserve the gorillas and to let them get their share from income-generating activities linked to the presence of wildlife,” the UNESCO statement said.
The mission was dispatched after nine mountain gorillas were found slaughtered this year in Virunga, which lies in the northeast of the DRC close to the border with Uganda and Rwanda. That is more than were killed during the conflict that wracked Africa’s Great Lakes region in the late 1990s.
Virunga was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1979 for its outstanding natural habitats and biodiversity, but the gorilla killings have led the World Heritage Committee to inscribe the park on the List of World Heritage in Danger.
The mission comprises experts from UNESCO and the World Conservation Union (IUCN), a union of Governments, government agencies and NGOs, as well as a representative of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). The team will now present its findings to the Chairperson of the World Heritage Committee, Christina Cameron.