Gorillas face many threats in the wild. These include illegal hunting and bushmeat trade, habitat loss, fragmentation and degradation, the spread of disease, and climate change. Both species of gorilla, the eastern gorilla and the western gorilla, are considered Critically Endangered by the IUCN.
In collaboration with our partners, Born Free is conserving gorillas in the rainforests of Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of Congo. These holistic conservation programmes are working to reduce illegal poaching and preserve forest habitat.
Read more about these programmes, and how they’re helping gorillas, below.
GORILLA CONSERVATION EFFORT
GUARDIANS OF DJA
LOCATION: Dja Biosphere Reserve, East Region, Cameroon, Central Africa.
GOAL: To increase rare central chimpanzees and western lowland gorillas in the Dja Biosphere Reserve (DBR), Cameroon. To enable local people and wildlife to coexist sustainably.
THREATS: The DBR is home to many rural communities such as the Badjoue and the Bantu. These communities are classed as “poor” or “extreme poor”. Their traditional livelihoods rely on unsustainable and damaging activities in the forest, such as bushmeat hunting and slash-and-burn farming.
Bushmeat hunting for local consumption and sale is widespread in this region of Africa, as well as poaching for the illegal wildlife trade markets. Activities that harm the forest, such as slash-and-burn farming, further threaten the remaining chimpanzees and gorillas.
ACTIONS: The Guardians of Dja programme currently operates in six villages in the north-eastern periphery of the Dja Biosphere Reserve.
Born Free support staff to deliver training courses in sustainable agroforestry practices. Students are empowered to develop a reliable trade in cocoa and pepper, using sustainable agroforestry methods. Farmers are encouraged to re-use previously farmed land (fallows) using composting to bring nutrients back to the soil. The programme also provides primary education at a school, which can teach 100 pupils per year. Students at the school receive ten hours of conservation lessons a week and the staff receive conservation training.
The Guardians of Dja programme supports at least two anti-poaching patrols each year, and has also recruited 12 ‘Great Ape Guardians’ from local communities. These guardians patrol, gather information on bushmeat hunting and help others in the community to understand the importance of great ape conservation.
Finally, the programme aims to actively restore degraded areas of forest to benefit great apes, and other wildlife. Several nurseries have been set up to provide a mix of native trees and food crop trees to reforest these areas.
KAHUZI-BIEGA GORILLA MONITORING PROJECT
LOCATION: Kahuzi-Biega National Park, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Central Africa.
GOAL: To protect the largest remaining population of Grauer’s gorillas (also known as the eastern lowland gorilla) – a species endemic to the DRC – by preventing further degradation of the forest and loss of biodiversity, and reducing bushmeat hunting.
THREATS: The population of Grauer’s gorillas has dramatically declined over the last few decades, and the species is now mostly confined to a few small regions in eastern DRC. This makes them extremely vulnerable to extinction. This population decline can be attributed to illegal hunting for bushmeat as well as habitat loss due to expanding human settlements, agriculture and mining operations. It is estimated that Grauer’s gorillas have been restricted to just 13% of their historic range.
ACTIONS: Kahuzi-Biega National Park was established more than 50 years ago to preserve this endemic species and protect one of the most biodiverse areas in the DRC. In 2022, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) entered into a “Public Private Partnership” agreement with the National Protected Area Agency (ICCN) to assist in managing the park.
Born Free supports WCS and ICCN to safeguard and monitor 14 gorilla families in the Tshivanga Highlands sector of the park. Each family group is monitored daily to account for every individual. Some of the family groups are not habituated to the trackers, so the members are accounted for by counting the number of nests at each nest site in the morning.
The trackers also collect photos of each individual. Gorillas can be identified from their nose prints and other distinctive marks, so the aim is to eventually build a family album for each gorilla family. Health monitoring of the gorillas is conducted under the supervision of two ICCN vets. These vets remove snares when gorillas get trapped by poachers, and treat individuals for other ailments such as flu.