The largest population of mountain gorillas in the world has grown to four times the size of its once-dwindling number, as poaching has become virtually non-existent among the magnificent apes of Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Nearly 1,000 gorillas live in the park now, quadruple the number from 30 years ago, and a very special organization is to thank for the population boom.
Set up by governments and conservationist in 2005 to totally overhaul the failing park’s management, The Virunga Foundation battled the root causes of poaching by creating jobs and doing what governments normally do, like building new schools, businesses, and a $22 million hydroelectric project that will provide electricity and 1200 local jobs over the next three years.
The foundation also raised the salaries of honest park rangers to unprecedented levels — $200 a month, eight times the average salary in Congo – to ensure loyalty among the workers.
The changes led to a dramatic decline in poaching and since 2007, only one gorilla has been killed in the park.
The gorillas themselves have contributed to greater peace in the region, too.
The Virunga park’s bordering countries — Congo, Uganda, and Rwanda — have long mistrusted each other, but agree on one thing – the value of the gorillas and the hundreds of millions of tourism dollars brought in every year.
Working together to protect gorillas has led to cooperation on other issues that will bring peace not only to the apes but the humans in the three nations, as well.
Photo by Sara&Joachim, CC