Kahuzi-Biega National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site in the South Kivu Province of eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), is a stronghold for the eastern lowland gorilla G. g. graueri.
Gorilla viewing tourism began to generate important revenue for Kahuzi-Biega back in the 1970s and 1980s, but by the 1990s, instability in the region had made travel to the park extremely dangerous. The Rwandan genocide in 1994 sparked a mass exodus of hundreds of thousands of Hutu refugees from Rwanda across the border into DRC. The resulting ethnic tension led to two Congo wars in 1996 and 1998 and cost the lives of millions of people. To this day, the region is characterized by a chronic state of insecurity and civil strife and by the late 1990s onwards, mining rights illegally claimed by whichever rebel militia held power at the time, meant that the activities of militias and warlords were funded by the trade in minerals held within rebel territory.
At the end of the 1990s, the global price of coltan used in electronic components had risen sharply with the global demand for products such as mobile phones, laptop computers and games consoles. This led to a boom in coltan mining in the region and legally protected areas such as Kahuzi-Biega National Park and forests adjacent to it were not excluded. Within a three-year period, it was apparent that the national park had lost much of its large mammal fauna including a significant proportion of its gorillas, as a direct consequence of increased human pressure caused by the in-migration of labourers searching for work in the coltan mines. Over 90% of the park was controlled by rebel militia that controlled the coltan trade. Large mammals were indiscriminately killed for bushmeat to feed the miners and elephants were slaughtered for their ivory. Timber and other natural resources were also illegally exploited. From an estimated 17,000 gorillas in 1998, it is thought that the global population declined by 80-90%. Rising sales of mobile phones and games consoles half a world away, were directly linked to falling numbers of gorillas in an African warzone. As a result the eastern lowland gorilla is now only thought to number several thousand.
Read a 2001 report on the Impact of Coltan Mining on Gorillas and other Wildlife in Eastern DR Congo. This report, by Born Free’s Wildlife Consultant and the Chairman of the Ape Alliance, Ian Redmond OBE, and commissioned by the Born Free Foundation and the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund Europe, highlights the threats.
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