Bobby Neptune image gorilla face


Virunga National Park (Virunga) in the Democratic Republic of Congo houses one-third of the world’s mountain gorilla population. Current unrest around the park is restricting ranger activities in the gorilla area, leaving the mountain gorilla population unprotected. The Rapid Response Facility (RRF), a UNESCO World Heritage Centre and Fauna and Flora International (FFI) joint initiative providing small grants in emergency situations affecting biodiversity within natural World Heritage sites mobilized US$39,300 to the Virunga Foundation (VF) to support community trackers in protecting the park and its prized gorillas.

Virunga National Park (790,000 ha) is the first national park established on the African continent and comprises an outstanding diversity of habitats, including swamps, steppes, snowy mountain peaks, savannahs, and the two most active volcanoes in Africa. The park is the only protected area on Earth home to three taxa of great apes: the mountain gorilla, the eastern lowland gorilla, and the eastern chimpanzee. In addition to great apes, the park contains important populations of elephants, buffalo, chimpanzees, and the largest concentration of hippopotamuses in Africa.

Virunga’s mountain gorilla population has been growing since 1985 and now numbers over 1,000 individuals. However, current unrest in the area is limiting the ability of park rangers to patrol the area. Without regular patrols, human presence in the gorilla sector has increased, exposing the population to snare traps, hunting and human transmitted disease. Though the park’s gorilla population has been growing, the species population is still limited globally and the loss of any individuals would be highly detrimental and take time to reverse.

Credit: Roelof Schutte

The RRF grant will support local community trackers to increase their monitoring of the gorillas at this difficult time for the park. There has been a long-term collaboration between the VF and communities, involving them in supporting management of the park’s outstanding biodiversity. The activities undertaken by community trackers have evolved over the years and now include daily tracking of gorillas, disease monitoring and de-snaring campaigns. Overall, this program has been extremely successful as Virunga’s mountain gorillas have experienced an upward trend in growth in the last decade, with around 18 new births recorded annually (5% annual growth rate). Furthermore, the park has not lost a mountain gorilla to poaching in several years.

The project will support deploying and training 50 community trackers to conduct regular gorilla monitoring patrols (at least three per day for four months), track and locate groups, gather health and population data, and protect them from threats.

Posted August 2023

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