Within the vast mountainous landscape in the eastern Congo Basin are the largely rain-forested Kahuzi-Biega and Maiko National Parks covering 1,660,000 hectares. These parks, and the one million hectares forest area in between, are home to the world’s remaining population of critically endangered eastern lowland gorillas also known as Grauer’s gorilla.

FFI supported the Congolese protected area authority, the Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN) to draft the country’s first community conservation strategy, providing guidelines for involving local people in the management of protected areas and natural resources as well as economic development. FFI has been building the capacity and expertise of ICCN, providing equipment, support and advice on implementing the National Community Conservation Strategy on the ground.

In 2009, FFI launched its Community Conservation Programme aimed at engaging the local community to be actively involved in the management of the parks,  sustainable use of natural resources, supporting  economic development and conserving wildlife including the Grauer’s gorilla. As part of this programme of work, FFI is working to empower local people and protect the rainforest through supporting two community led reserves called REGOLU and REGOMUKI, which buffer Maiko National Park.  As a result of FFI’s support, the communities have successfully demarcated a section of their reserves, recruited, equipped and trained community rangers and launched the first ever bio-monitoring patrol programme aimed at protecting Grauer’s gorilla.

In 2011, a workshop was organised that brought together 11 organizations, including FFI, to develop the Great Ape Conservation Action Plan (CAP), which was subsequently adopted by IUCN. Over the next five years, FFI developed new standardized approaches to survey and monitor great apes throughout the CAP, and carried out field surveys to collect data on Grauer’s gorilla as well as identify threats. In mid-2016, as a result of this survey, Grauer’s gorilla was subsequently reclassified from endangered to critically endangered.

FFI’s continues to work towards the long-term goal for this programme; that the community reserves are effectively and equitably managed by local women and men, ensuring healthy and functioning ecosystems and viable, unthreatened populations of key and endemic species, specifically Grauer’s gorilla.