Conservation diplomacy: mountain gorillas as ambassadors

Senior officials from Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have signed a treaty, witnessed by a senior delegation from Uganda, reaffirming the commitment of the three States to work together for the conservation of the Greater Virunga Landscape.

The treaty is the culmination of decades of work and is a major milestone on the road to stronger protection for this important area, which is home to many unique and threatened species including mountain gorillas.

Here, Anna Behm Masozera – Director of the International Gorilla Conservation Programme – describes the lead up to this major event…

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“I have been privileged to witness the final steps of conservation diplomacy leading to the now signed treaty and I am inspired by all the men and women at all levels – from park staff, civil society and government institutions – who have helped us reach this important point in transboundary collaboration, and am excited about what the newly signed treaty will allow us to achieve in the years to come.

“The road by which we have reached this unprecedented level of international cooperation for conservation hasn’t always been easy. At times, frankly, it meant political and even personal risk to ensure that conservation and protection activities were well coordinated across international borders at a time when this was neither a very popular nor well understood concept.

“The International Gorilla Conservation Programme (IGCP) played an important role in this regard, aiding practitioners in this uncertain environment, allowing for coordinated patrols along the shared international border that dissects gorilla habitat into three separate parks in three neighbouring countries.

Mountain gorilla adult. Credit: Juan Pablo Moreiras/FFI.
The treaty will make it easier to conserve mountain gorillas, which range across three different countries. Credit: Juan Pablo Moreiras/FFI.

“Over time, our role has changed, and it continues to change as the Greater Virunga Transboundary Collaboration becomes a fully formalised institution through the signing of this treaty. It is so rewarding to witness this process unfold, and to see transboundary conservation of the Greater Virunga Landscape become institutionalised into national governance, making it far more robust and sustainable.

“The coordinated activities at grassroots, and their contribution to the success of mountain gorilla conservation, were sorely in need of a formal arrangement to reinforce their legitimacy and create an enabling environment for staff on the ground. This treaty, once ratified by all parties and put to implementation, will provide just that.

Not only will this make existing transboundary conservation efforts easier, it will also enable many more coordinated activities including landscape planning and the harmonisation of policies across the three States.

“Mountain gorillas themselves have been flagship ambassadors within this process, due to the value that all three States place on these animals as a source of national pride and a major contributor to national and local economies through gorilla tourism.

“It is little surprise, therefore, that mountain gorillas featured prominently in the ceremony last week, while not detracting from all the other equally-important and endemic species of fauna and flora also present in the Greater Virunga Landscape. Indeed, the role of the area’s wildlife and ecosystems in securing the livelihoods and economies of the region was well recognised and part of the impetus to conserve this landscape as a way of ensuring sustainable development for people in the area.

“Congratulations to the Greater Virunga Transboundary Collaboration, for this milestone achieved, in anticipation of the remaining formalities and the signature of the Republic of Uganda to join that of the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Republic of Rwanda.”

This story has been adapted (with permission) from a blog post first published on the IGCP website – read the original.

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