What is so great about Protected Areas?
Unlike some other parts of Africa, much of the range of Western gorillas is still relatively heavily forested and lightly inhabited by humans. Thus, the immediate threat to Western gorillas is not habitat loss, but commercial hunting. Addressing this threat will require a concerted campaign of law enforcement. However, the range over which Western gorillas are still found is so large and the challenges of operating in the Central African forest so formidable that it simply will not be possible to protect gorillas everywhere. Hard choices will have to be made and the most rational choice is to concentrate on formally protected areas (parks and reserves). Roughly ten of the protected areas in Western Gorilla range are large and remote, still containing healthy gorilla populations. Their large size means that they can hold enough gorillas for long term population viability. And what little wildlife law enforcement and general management capacity currently exists in the region, is concentrated in these protected areas.
The generally low human population in and around key protected areas also creates an enviable situation in terms of interactions with local villagers. To an almost unprecedented extent, the protected areas in Western gorilla range do not contain large numbers of villages or act as key traditional village hunting areas. Thus, protecting Western gorillas is not, for the most part, a matter of evicting large numbers of villagers from traditional village sites or restricting access to traditional hunting areas. Human populations are in many cases small enough that a significant proportion of local villagers can be converted to allies through employment as park guards or in other aspects of protected area management. Experience has shown that through time these villagers come to value the benefits provided by the park more highly than those of hunting themselves or allowing others access to their traditional hunting areas.
Once traditional villages have been won over and the precedent that a protected area is off limits has been accepted, newcomers tend to honor it, particularly if it is vigorously enforced. In most of the range it will still be tens of years before human settlement intensity reaches the kinds of levels seen in the Cross River region or in the Mountain gorilla habitat of East Africa. Thus, if we can control commercial hunting now, there is time to build a management infrastructure that will resist the inevitable wave of subsistence hunting and habitat destruction that will accompany economic migrants in search of jobs in the logging and other natural resource industries.
Information on Specific Protected Areas
The governments in the Western gorilla range countries are not currently capable of planning for or administering protected areas withouth substantial aid from expatriate non-governmental organizations (NGO’s).Three NGO’s currently operate the majority of protected area projects in Western gorilla range countries. They are, in alphabetical order, ECOFAC, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). Information on each of ECOFAC’s protected area projects can be found at their central web site. Information on WWF’s Dzanga-Sangha Project can be found at their central website. Information on the WCS Africa Program and can be found at their central web site along with a information on the PattyCake Fund, a fund set up specifically to support gorilla conservation. WCS also operates separate Web site sites for several protected area projects in Republic of Congo as well as the Langoue Project in Gabon.