There was a very strong consensus that two things have to happen if viable populations of western gorillas are to survive into the next decade: 1) that conservation donors and the public at large need to be forcefully educated about the seriousness of the problem, and 2) that the proportion of the conservation budget spent on law enforcement needs to be immediately and drastically increased. We also agreed that the longer term priority should be turning paper parks into real parks, with the key issues in that effort being sustainable funding (e.g. Trust Funds) and building of national capacity to manage parks.
Why isn’t Western Gorilla Conservation Working?
The primary reason that we are losing the fight to save Western gorillas is simply that not enough money is being spent. Conservation budgets in Central Africa are miniscule compared to what we are accustomed to paying for wildlife conservation in the developed world. The budget for a single large park in the US is larger than the annual conservation budget of an entire Central African nation. Unless public and private donors from the developed countries answer the call and substantially increase funding levels, Western gorillas and other large forest mammals will likely be driven to the brink of extinction over the next decade.
However, simply throwing more money around will not solve the problem. Saving Western gorillas will require a fundamental change in strategy. Many current strategies are either inappropriate for the conditions prevailing in Western gorilla range countries or operate on time scales that are too long to address the immediate crisis. What Western gorillas desperately need is a “Back to Basics” approach: a movement away from high flying conservation concepts and towards plain old, nuts and bolts natural resource management: particularly law enforcement and protected area management. Unfortunately, the conservation situation in Central Africa closely parallels developments in the “New Economy” over the last decade. Dotcoms became fabulously wealthy on the basis of innovative business plans and slick marketing but then crashed when they failed to deliver a product. Conservation in Central Africa has followed the same trajectory but the consequence of the crash is not a wave of bankruptcies but, rather, the devastation of Western gorillas and other large forest mammals. What we need at this point is a little less Dotcom thinking and a little more “Old Economy” action.
What Will Work?
Below we have provided you a table outlining our view on which strategies are likely to save Western gorillas and which are not. We have also provided links explaining why each strategy has received the priority it did. And next to our priority scores we have placed a score indicating how much emphasis each strategy is currently getting. These latter scores are not based on hard budget figures from governments, donors and non-profits (which are not publicly available) but are simply educated guesses. Our objective in assigning low scores for some strategies is not to point fingers or make accusations. We know that the advocates of these strategies are passionately dedicated to conservation and are trying to do what they see as best. We are just saying that our frontline experience tells us that these strategies have not worked in the Central African context and are not likely to work in the future. We invite everyone to join in pursuing strategies that will.
You should take two messages away from your visit to this web page. The first is that the immediate priority of increased law enforcement trumps all other concerns. If we do not invest heavily in law enforcement now, all else will be moot. Western gorillas will become effectively extinct in the wild before other measures have time to work. The second is that the key to the long-term survival of wild populations of Western gorillas is a network of well managed protected areas (parks and reserves). Achieving a truly effective protected area network will require sustainable funding mechanisms (e.g. Trust Funds) to underwrite recurrent costs of management and a serious campaign to build national management capacity.