Republics of Congo (Brazzaville) and Gabon
Ecosystem Restoration and Management on the Batéké Plateau
Since 1987, The Aspinall Foundation has been working with the governments of the Republic of Congo (Brazzaville) and since 1998 in the neighbouring state of Gabon to protect nearly 1million acres within the unique savannah ecosystem of the Batéké Plateau that spans these two countries.
These projects, named "Projet Protection des Gorilles", (PPG) work with local partners and national governments to develop a three-pronged approach to stop the rapid decline of critically endangered western lowland gorilla numbers (down by 60% in the past 20-25 years).
The projects work within globally accepted conservation strategies (IUCN and Great Apes Survival Project - GRASP) and routinely disseminate reports and results at conferences and in international publications, while popular articles have featured in many high readership publications such as National Geographic, The Daily Telegraph, The Independent and Africa Geographic.
The projects have also featured in two BBC produced television documentaries as well as the award winning ‘Gorilla Gorilla' documentary for Animal Planet.
The Aspinall Foundation funded park rangers work to protect this biodiversity hotspot where species such as forest elephants, servals, Debrazza monkeys, red river hog and forest buffalo are found. The success of the anti-poaching activities has been widely praised by national government and NGO partners, such as the Wildlife Conservation Society.
Orphan gorilla sanctuaries, law enforcement and education
The PPG projects provide an essential step in allowing wildlife trafficking laws to be effectively enforced by government authorities in their respective countries. Without a facility to provide long-term care and rehabilitation for orphaned gorillas confiscated by government officials, the issue of where to place these animals would ultimately hamper this process.
However, in order to decrease the number of animals that are killed or traded, a targeted education and awareness campaign is necessary. Using young orphan gorillas as ‘ambassadors' for their species provides a great opportunity to touch the hearts of people on a local and national level.
Gorilla reintroduction to areas where the species has been hunted to extinction
The Batéké Plateau region that spans southeast Gabon and central Congo-Brazzaville was probably the first large wilderness area to see the extinction of gorillas in these countries. The primary aim of the PPG reintroduction programme is to re-establish viable gorilla populations within this area. From 1996 to 2006, a total of 51 gorillas were released; 25 in Congo and 26 in Gabon.
Of these animals, 43 are confiscated wild-born orphans , and the remainder are hand-reared individuals originating from the highly successful captive breeding programme at Howletts and Port Lympne Wild Animal Parks, Kent.
We are celebrating 10 years since The Aspinall Foundation reintroduced the first gorilla, born in Kent, back to the wild. Click here to read about Kwibis transfer to Africa.
Kwibi, was raised by Damian Aspinall at Howletts Wild Animal Park in England and then released into the wild in Africa when he was 5 years old. Damian was reunited with Kwibi after 5 years living wild in the forest.
Overall survival rates of released gorillas have been very high; 84% in Congo and 84.6% in Gabon. Since the first birth to a reintroduced female in 2004, there have been an additional 18 births across the two projects. This level of success was not widely expected and both populations will benefit from further releases over the coming years.
Long term protected area management
A major factor determining the success of a reintroduction program is the extent to which the release site is protected and managed in a long-term, sustainable manner. The PPG projects have facilitated the creation of protected areas and associated management projects in collaboration with the respective national governments and NGOs (including the Wildlife Conservation Society in Gabon).
The overall aims of these projects are to protect the wildlife and habitat of the sites, to support local community development projects, biodiversity research and tourism development, and to encourage the participation of local communities in integrated sustainable resource management. Local communities benefit directly from employment and, in Congo, from the revenue generated by the project staff purchasing fruit for captive gorillas from local weekly markets.
The Batéké Plateau supports a fragile ecosystem that has been degraded through years of deforestation and over-hunting. The management projects are in effect ecosystem restoration programmes, with the reintroduced gorillas acting as a flagship species. They also act as a keystone species, playing a vital role in forest regeneration within the sites. The associated habitat protection allows for recovery of wildlife populations.
Wildlife Law Enforcement
The Aspinall Foundation identified an ongoing problem with the lack of enforcement of national wildlife laws in Congo and, in a bid to tackle this problem, a collaborative wildlife law enforcement project named PALF was initiated by The Aspinall Foundation and the Wildlife Conservation Society in late 2008. The project has four key areas of activity; investigations, field operations, legal action and media reporting. Over the course of 2009 the PALF project has been instrumental in a number of arrests, prosecutions and seizures; including ivory, gorilla body parts, live apes and wild animal pelts. In June 2009, the PALF project was selected by the UNEP 'Year of the Gorilla' for a targeted fundraising campaign.
The Aspinall Foundation would like to say thank you to Beauval Nature who have been kindly supporting our Gorilla Protection Projects in Africa since 2005.