Do We have the Energy to Save the Gorillas?

Logging for timber, plantations or fuel, coincides with bushmeat extraction An omnipresent yet invisible threat to gorillas and their habitats, as well as to countless other species, is the ever-growing human demand for energy and its consequences.

Charcoal production is a major threat to gorilla forests in many areas, not least the Mountain Gorilla habitat in Virunga National Park, Democratic Republic of Congo. To reduce this threat, solar cookers, tree-planting on farms and the spread of fuel-efficient stoves are needed. The Year of the Gorilla (YoG) is supporting a project in the Mountain Gorillas’ range which enables local residents to purchase highly fuel-efficient stoves for a low price, thereby enabling them to use less firewood, which is often taken from the very same forests that are home to the gorillas.

This threat manifests itself also through fossil fuel extraction. Oil exploration in Petit Loango wetland, Gabon, put Western Lowland Gorillas in peril, but prospecting luckily did not yield results to justify further action. The search for nuclear fuel can have similar effects.

Robert Hepworth, Executive Secretary of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of wild animals (UNEP/CMS), said: “Stopping the current overexploitation of natural resources is a key element of any strategy leading to a sustainable way of living. The forests and woodlands of Africa must play a central role in efforts to avoid dangerous climate change. There is a strong scientific case for carbon finance to make significant contributions to gorilla conservation, as gorilla range states would benefit financially from protecting their forests.”

A further worrying development is the fact that many gorilla range states are signing land deals with foreign companies for agriculture, including bio-fuels. On top of destroying the habitat of numerous species, forest degradation also means palm oil, an edible oil found in one in ten supermarket products and also increasingly being seen as a profitable bio-fuel, has a higher carbon footprint than the fossil fuels it is supposed to replace.

Beyond the immediate impact of these industries, the influx of relatively well-paid workers who can afford to frequently eat meat causes bushmeat trade to boom and gorillas to decline, as happened with the Coltan boom in Democratic Republic of Congo in 2000/2001.

Apes and other large mammals are keystone species in their ecosystems, dispersing billions of seeds, which have higher germination and seedling survival rates than seeds that just fall to ground. Ian Redmond OBE, Ambassador for the YoG said, “I am proud to be an Ambassador for the YoG. Fascinating though gorillas are because of their similarities to humans, we also need to focus on their key ecological role. They are second only to elephants in the number of seeds dispersed per unit area, and symbolise the fate of the Congo Basin forests, which the planet needs for climate stability. Save the gorillas and you save the world!”

Viewed globally, degradation and destruction of habitats not only threaten gorillas, they also worsen climate change overall. Tropical trees in undisturbed forest are absorbing nearly a fifth of the CO2 released by burning fossil fuels. The world’s remaining tropical forests remove 4.8 billion tonnes of CO2 emissions from the atmosphere each year. This includes a previously unknown carbon sink in Africa, mopping up 1.2 billion tonnes of CO2.

Numerous threats endanger gorillas’ survival. Together with the other great apes, they are most severely threatened by: habitat loss and fragmentation; hunting and the bushmeat trade; diseases and epidemics; mining; and the effects of armed conflicts. This is why the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species (UNEP/CMS), the UNEP/UNESCO Great Apes Survival Partnership (GRASP) and the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) have joined forces to declare 2009 the Year of the Gorilla.

Angela Meder of the German gorilla conservation NGO Berggorilla & Regenwald Direkthilfe e.V. said in 2009: “This year, we celebrate our 25th anniversary. Our organization supports gorilla conservation projects through quick, unbureaucratic help. For example we are currently supporting the reforestation of a montane forest on the edge of Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo.“

On May 21st, YoG Ambassador Ian Redmond and Dr. Angela Meder of German NGO and GRASP partner Berggorilla & Regenwald Direkthilfe e.V. gave a lecture entitled “Gorillas – Survival or Extinction” at the Zoological Museum König, Bonn, Germany.

Dr. Angela Meder opened with an outlook on Germany’s role in gorilla studies and the current taxonomy, some research findings and how BRD was formed and which projects it supports.

Ian Redmond then recapitulated the ‘Mountain Gorilla story’ from George Schaller and Dian Fossey (whom he knew personally) to current activities to save them from extinction through international cooperation and the Year of the Gorilla, contrasting the fragile recovery of Mountain Gorillas with the continuing decline of the other sub-species, and highlighting the importance of gorillas for intact forest ecosystems.

This was followed by Q&A and discussion with the audience. The book ‘Gorillas – the Gentle Giants’ by EMB Books (part of revenue goes to gorilla conservation) was offered for sale.

A press conference on May 22nd 2009 at Langer Eugen Tower, UN Campus Bonn, again highlighted the need to view energy consumption patterns in light of the effects they have on ecosystems and the species therein.

“Green Heart” Trilogy on world’s tropical forests out now!

Steve Taylor in Borneo Tropical rain forests are home to more than half the world’s species and play a crucial role in maintaining the health of our planet and the stability of our climate through the ecosystem services they provide. Independent filmmaker Steve Taylor has traveled across Africa, Amazonia and Borneo to explore first-hand the complex issues of deforestation and degradation. The first two in a trilogy of films about tropical forests and the people and wildlife who depend on them are now available. The Year of the Gorilla campaign, alongside others, supported the making of these films and is happy to announce their completion.

Africa’s Green Heart takes us from the slums and diamond pits of Sierra Leone to the depths of the Congo Basin. Dramatic film of bushmeat hunters and life on Congo riverboats contrast with rare gorilla behaviour and moving interviews with forest communities, loggers and conservationists. Latin America’s Green Heart documents life in the Amazon Basin, from melting glaciers in the Andes to the lush rainforests and boom-towns of Peru and Brazil. A shaman explains the medicinal uses of plants, contrasting with the drivers of deforestation – cattle ranching and soy farming. The third part, Asia’s Disappearing Green Heart, focuses on the devastating forest losses in South East Asia, which are driven especially by timber felling and the creation of gigantic plantations for the production of palm oil. It will be completed this week and will also become available for purchase soon. YoG Ambassador Ian Redmond opined: ”These beautiful, thought provoking films are both an educational resource and a call to action to ensure the forests survive.”

To find out more about Steve’s exciting journeys and the movies, please go to his website

Carbon Finance is Key to Protection of Gorillas & Elephants

Carbon finance is key to better protection of gorillas and elephants to maintain health of African rain forests says UN Ambassador.

The United Nations Ambassador for the Year of the Gorilla, Ian Redmond, has called for the inclusion of gorillas and elephants, as important components in African rain forests, in the upcoming climate negotiations in Copenhagen.

Large mammals, such as elephants and gorillas, are keystone species in their relevant ecosystems. Gorillas act as ‘gardeners’ in the rain forests of the Congo Basin, and protecting them helps prevent loss of flora that are ecologically dependent on them.

Gorillas are second only to elephants in the number of seeds they disperse each day in the forests of Africa. When eating fruit and seeds, the seeds pass through their system and are in this way prepared for germination.

UN Ambassador, Ian Redmond, who has just returned from a fact-finding mission across eight African gorilla range states said: “The gorillas and elephants of Africa are doing the world a service. UNEP has just succeeded in its Seven Billion Tree campaign, but I would estimate that the apes and elephants of Africa disperse some seven billion seeds every day! The full extent of the role they play in maintaining the health of their forest habitat – a central component of the Earth’s climate regulation -is still poorly understood.”

For a selection of relevant videos, click here.

Fifteen years of armed conflicts in the Great Lakes region of Africa, accompanied by illegal exploitation of minerals to finance militias, led to a sharp increase in demand for bush meat. In addition, rapidly growing urban populations accelerated deforestation through charcoal production. Consequently, gorillas and elephants have been poached in large numbers.

A dramatic decline in the diversity of vegetation can be observed in parts of the Kahuzi-Biega National Park in the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. As gorillas declined and elephants vanished from the montane area, the forest’s flora changed into denser, less diverse vegetation. Weed-like plants, which were formerly held in check by elephants and gorillas, have become much more dominant and are suffocating trees, thereby accelerating deforestation. Myrianthus fruit trees, whose seeds had formerly been dispersed especially by large mammals, are being killed by the Sericostachys scandens vines and if this continues may become increasingly rare.

By building nests, gorillas break off branches and create gaps in the forest canopy that allow light through to the forest floor enabling smaller plants to grow.

The survival of forests requires the protection of the animals in them as well as the trees. In the long term, deforestation is as much a consequence of over-hunting as of cutting trees for charcoal or timber.

Insights gained from encounters with senior government officials, ex-militia, park wardens, conservationists, poachers, loggers and farmers highlight the need for a comprehensive approach to conserve rain forests and gorillas in the Congo Basin.

Supporting existing national action plans to halt deforestation of gorilla habitat is one of the major objectives of the CMS Agreement on the Conservation of Gorilla and their Habitat during the Year of the Gorilla campaign.

Notes to Editors
The Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals works for the conservation of a wide array of endangered migratory animals worldwide through the negotiation and implementation of agreements and species action plans. With currently 112 member countries, many of them in Africa, CMS is a fast-growing convention with special importance due to its expertise in the field of migratory species.
More information is available at:

The Year of the Gorilla 2009
The Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (UNEP/CMS), also known as the Bonn Convention, declared 2009 the Year of the Gorilla (YoG). Partners in this campaign include the Great Apes Survival Partnership (GRASP), in cooperation with UNEP and UNESCO, and the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA). The initiative is part of the United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development. Its main objective is to raise funds, awareness and political will to implement the CMS Agreement on the Conservation of Gorillas and their Habitats, a legally binding treaty between gorilla range states.

More information and a selection of videos on this topic on the Year of the Gorilla are available at:

For more information please contact:

Ian Redmond OBE, Ambassador, UN Year of the Gorilla, Chief Consultant, GRASP – UNEP/UNESCO Great Ape Survival Partnership, Mobile: +44-7769743975 or email:

Veronika Lenarz, UNEP/CMS Secretariat, Coordinator UN Year of the Gorilla) on +49 228 8152409 or email:

Daniel Karr, Consultant, UN Year of the Gorilla, email:

Gorillas on Thin Ice

“Gorillas on Thin Ice” will take place at the 900 square-metre ice rink in the gardens of the Natural History Museum, South Kensington, London.

The Year of the Gorilla (YoG) is a joint initiative of the UNEP-CMS, the UNEP/UNESCO Great Ape Survival Partnership (GRASP) and the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA). CMS has 110 governments supporting as Parties.

Experts meeting in November 2008 under the new Gorilla Agreement, coordinated by UNEP-CMS adopted comprehensive national action plans to support the upcoming Year. Several projects to promote gorilla conservation align to tailored regional action plans and have been supported by the CMS Scientific Council. They focus on better protection of the Cross River Gorilla by strengthening the role of community-based conservation initiatives, the development of a broad-based outreach program and relevant research.

Numbering less than 300 remaining individuals, the Cross River Gorilla is Africa’s most endangered ape. It occurs across a 12,000km2 landscape along the Nigerian-Cameroon border. While most of the forest sites fall within the boundaries of Parks, Wildlife Sanctuaries or Forest Reserves, affording them some level of protection, community-based protection is being promoted in the remaining sites. Therefore, a community Wildlife Sanctuary is currently being establishment in Nigeria and a gorilla guardian network is being implemented in Cameroon.

The survival prospects of Cross River Gorillas will be enhanced through the creation of Nigeria’s first community managed Wildlife Sanctuary and support a gorilla guardian monitoring network. A combined conservation and rural development approach will be promoted in the most vulnerable Cross River Gorilla sites in Cameroon.

Another project, which will be overseen by the Wildlife Conservation Society aims to promote education and conservation awareness among schools and communities in Cross River National Park in Nigeria and the contiguous Takamanda National Park in Cameroon. The main objective results in changed behaviour related to key threats faced by the Cross River gorillas such as habitat loss and hunting. Given the large number of people living around and also within Okwangwo-Takamanda, raising awareness about the value of conservation and the uniqueness of these gorillas will be a major component of a long-term conservation program. Education and awareness efforts in recent years have already contributed to a significant reduction of gorilla hunting. Under the action plan these efforts will be strengthened and expanded in the heart of the gorillas range.

A broad-based outreach program envisages the development of local radio programs, thematic conservation films and a transboundary education campaign targeted at local hunters. These media will target major conservation challenges such as river poisoning, over-hunting, lack of understanding of wildlife laws and bush burning.

A third project supports relevant research on the Cross River Gorillas, which remain one of the least well-known ape populations. A better understanding of the gorillas’ range, population structure and habitat preferences and the collection/generation of new data will allow for more effective management of the Cross River Gorilla and its habitat. Conducting population and distribution surveys will help to better map the extent of the species’ range and identity suitable new gorilla habitat. A feasibility study will determine whether carbon credit projects are suitable to fund Cross River Gorilla conservation and could have major implications for future conservation strategies.

More information about the event and to arrange interviews or photography please contact Sarah Nuttall, UK–Based UNEP-CMS Fund Raiser, on Tel: 01403 733 878 or 0790 20 11 734 or e-mail:

For More Information on the Year of the Gorilla Please Contact Ms. Veronika Lenarz, UNEP/CMS Secretariat, on Tel: +49 (0)228 8152409 or +49-172 230 59 06 during the event, e-mail:

Ian Redmond, YOG Ambassador, Robert Hepworth, CMS Executive Secretary, and Justin Wateridge of A&K will be among those available for interview.