A mountain gorilla in Uganda - the future of great apes

Safeguarding The Future For Great Apes And Their Habitats

Cover photo: A male mountain gorilla from the Mukiza group in the Bwindi Impenetrable National Forest near the town of Kisoro, Uganda on March 31, 2018. REUTERS/Baz Ratner

During the pandemic, there were numerous reports from around the world about animals testing positive for COVID-19. Various pet cats and dogs contracted the disease. At the Bronx Zoo, four lions and three tigers recovered from the infection. Conservationists and zookeepers were especially concerned about endangered great apes: gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos, and chimpanzees. These close relatives of man are known to be susceptible to airborne respiratory diseases including tuberculosis and influenza.

The pandemic also augmented non-biological threats to the world’s great ape populations. In many places, these animals depend on human beings to preserve their habitats and inhibit poaching. Newsweek recently reported on the situation in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Forest, which is home to half of Earth’s mountain gorillas. The lockdown-related collapse in ecotourism created major budget shortfalls for conservation organizations that work in the area, and devastated local economies that depend on visits from foreign tourists. Additionally, economic pressures caused by the pandemic appear to have caused a spike in illegal hunting, not just by poachers who hope to cash in on the international trade for endangered animals, but by villagers who are finding themselves more dependent on bushmeat.

The good news is that, in these uncertain times, there is a plethora of conservancies, foundations, and generous philanthropists who are working to protect our beloved great apes and their glorious natural habitats. Read on to learn about how people around the planet are taking action, and how you can easily contribute to conservation efforts.

The Virunga Fund

Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo is Africa’s oldest and most biologically-diverse protected area. Home to elephants, lions, and critically endangered mountain gorillas – among hundreds of other animal species – the 3,000-square-mile park is protected by a team of over 700 local rangers.

Virunga National Park also provides essential economic support to 4 million people who live nearby. With a a focus on hydropower, sustainable agriculture and fisheries, and tourism, the Park works to create jobs and reduce poverty.

However, there are many obstacles to the Park’s mission. On April 24th, a militia group attacked Virunga, killing 12 of the rangers. This incident, along with the coronavirus crisis, have jeopardized the future of Virunga.

Fortunately actor and environmental activist Leonardo DiCaprio has teamed up with Global Wildlife Conservation, Emerson Collective and the European Commission to launch The Virunga Fund to support the park through this challenging time. The collective has contributed $2 million in seed funding.

The Jane Goodall Institute

For the last 60 years, Dr. Jane Goodall has been working tirelessly to study and protect the world’s chimpanzees, and, by extension, to preserve all of our planet’s animals and ecosystems. In 1960, at the age of 26, she bravely ventured into the Gombe forest of Tanzania to immerse herself in the habitat of the little-understood chimpanzee. Among her many observations, she discovered that chimps make and use tools. This is generally regarded as one of the greatest achievements in 20th Century nature scholarship.

Today, the 86-year-old icon travels the world speaking about environmental issues and “urging each of us to take action on behalf of all living things and the planet we share.” With that mission in mind, Dr. Goodall founded the Jane Goodall Institute in 1977. The organization strives to achieve the following:

  • restoring critical habitat to save chimpanzees from extinction
  • improving health for women and education for girls
  • cultivating local livelihoods in harmony with nature
  • helping young people become an informed generation of conservation leaders.

On Earth Day of this year (April 22), National Geographic released a 2-hour documentary about the great naturalist and humanitarian, entitled Jane Goodall: The Hope. View the trailer below:

Volcanoes Safaris

Since 1997, Volcanoes Safaris was worked to build ecotourism economies in Uganda and Rwanda. The company offers gorilla trekking and chimpanzee tracking experiences. Originally, it set up simple camps around gorilla parks, including the aforementioned Bwindi Impenetrable National Forest. Today it operates four luxury lodges:

The nonprofit Volcanoes Safaris Partnership Trust (VSPT) connects the luxury lodge operations with economic development efforts and conservation activities in nearby communities. Volcanoes Safaris contributes $100 from each safari bookings and collects private donations from guests and other supporters.

The World Wildlife Fund

The 59-year-old WWF operates in over 100 countries and is considered the world’s leading conservation organization. It “works to help local communities conserve the natural resources they depend upon, transform markets and policies toward sustainability, and protect and restore species and their habitats.” The WWF’s efforts are focused in the areas of climate, food, forests, freshwater, oceans, and wildlife.

In particular, the WWF’s African Great Apes Programme supports African state governments, wildlife departments, and national park services in their efforts to protect gorillas, bonobos and chimpanzees.

How can ELEVATION readers help?

  • Go On A Gorilla Safari: When travel restrictions are eased, book a trip to visit a gorilla park in Uganda or the Central African Republic.

  • Adopt a Gorilla: Your gift will help protect western lowland gorillas in Central Africa. And you’ll receive a plush gorilla toy and an adoption certificate!

  • Buy Sustainable Wood: By purchasing FSC-certified forest products, we protect great ape habitats by encouraging sustainable forestry and limiting illegal logging.

  • Donate to the WWF: help build a world where both people and nature thrive.

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