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Rare Cooperation to Save Gorillas

BBC News

    Wednesday 20 February 2008

    Three countries have come together for the first time, to try to save the mountain gorillas of central Africa.

    Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda have launched a project to improve security for the great apes.

    One of the world's most endangered species, they live at the point where the three countries meet.

    There are only about 700 gorillas still left in the world. Numbers have been badly affected by poaching.

    They have also been hit by the deadly ebola virus and the destruction of the mountain forests - their natural habitat.

    The volcanic Virunga mountains that straddle Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo are the heartland of these great apes.

    A census carried out in 2004 estimated that 380 mountain gorillas, more than half of the world's population, lived in the Virunga national park and surrounding region.

    More than 300 also live in southwest Uganda's Bwindi Impenetrable Forest reserve.

    They are often poached for bush meat. Last July, five gorillas were killed - shot dead execution style - inside the Virunga national park.

    More recently, rebel forces loyal to the dissident Congolese general Laurent Nkunda, took over large areas of the park, forcing out the rangers and leaving the gorillas vulnerable to poachers.

    The BBC's Sarah Grainger in Kampala says the wildlife authorities of all three countries are well aware of how important the gorillas are as they represent an important revenue earner.

    Tourists pay $500 each for a permit to track the animals, raising $5m annually for the three countries.

    The 10-year conservation project, which was launched in the Ugandan capital, Kampala, is to focus on greater security and ways of discouraging local communities from destroying the region's forests.

    It aims to give them a share of the money made from gorilla-trekking permits.

    "For the first time, the three countries have decided to protect the great apes which are threatened with extinction and insecurity in the region," Moses Mapesa, the head of the Uganda Wildlife Authority, told a news conference at the launch of the project.

    The first four years of the project are being funded by the Dutch government at a cost of $6m.

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