Gorillas Find Sanctuary in Democratic Republic of Congo
By Chuck Quirmbach Milwaukee, Wisconsin10 December 2008
As fighting between rebel and government forces continues in the Democratic Republic of Congo, animal conservation groups are expressing concern for some endangered species in the tropical jungles on Congo's eastern border. But the U.S. government and private donors are still working in Congo to create East Central Africa's first rescue center exclusively for gorillas, a species that has long faced threats to its survival. There are nearly one thousand gorillas in the world's zoos.
Femelle enjoys her favorite snack - grapes. Femelle even grunts her thanks to gorilla-keeper Claire Richard. "There is a lot to admire about the species. They're very laid-back. They're mellow. They don't argue except over food and who's got what bed for the night," Richard says. As far as she's concerned, she says, gorillas are what people should be.
"Their family groups are so important to them that they'll do anything to protect them…and looking at my family I would do the same thing…that's where the fascination comes in," she says. But a nearby display points out a sobering fact: in the wilds of Africa, gorillas are in danger of extinction. And it's not just the current fighting in the Democratic Republic of Congo that's a concern.
Cress is executive director of the Pan African Sanctuary Alliance, which coordinates sites in the wild to protect the gorilla. "It's habitat that's diminishing all the time," he says, "between the deforestation, the logging, the human encroachment …hunting. So many changes are occurring so fast in Africa that it's pushing gorillas really to the brink. "
To help conservationists move forward, an international coalition is building a center to rescue, rehabilitate and reintroduce these orphaned gorillas back into the wild. It is designed to care for up to 30 eastern lowland and mountain gorillas. The sanctuary will cover 150 hectares near Lubero in the northeastern corner of Congo. Cress says the location of the center is very important. "Gorillas are very difficult to rescue. They are not tough animals, not durable animals, and the stress of being hunted, captured and confiscated, they quite often die from the stress," he says. "So to have a rescue center close to where they are, we can get to them quicker and rehabilitate them more easily."
The center will cost about $300,000 to construct and another $100,000 a year - at least - to keep going. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Agency for International Development have put up some money, and so has The Walt Disney Company, which operates a number of animal parks in the United States and promotes conservation.