Year of the Gorilla 2009

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Photo by Michael Nichols/NGS

The United Nations and an international coalition of zoos have declared 2009 the Year of the Gorilla.

Announced last month, Year of the Gorilla (YoG) aims to unite the needs of both the largest living primate and the people who live in gorilla range states.

YoG “aims to boost conservation of humankind’s closest relatives and their habitats by boosting the livelihoods and incomes of local people,” according to a news release issued by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).


Photo by Michael Nichols/NGS


The initiative is a collaboration of UNEP’s Convention on Migratory Species, the Great Ape Survival Partnership (GRASP, a partnership of UNEP and the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, governments, and NGOs), and the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA).

The YoG Africa-Wide Action Plan for 2009 includes:

  • Promotion of super-efficient “Rocket Stoves.” Tests in the Democratic Republic of Congo have found that locally made ‘Rocket Stoves’ can cut charcoal and wood use by up to 70 per cent. Expanding the pilot to thousands of homes in the region could help reduce pressure on gorilla forest habitats; boost incomes and livelihoods for local people and improve air quality in local homes.
  • A second pilot project, this time in Cameroon, is boosting alternative livelihoods in order to reduce commercial hunting of bushmeat.gorilla-facts-2.jpg
  • Rwanda and Uganda are generating significant economic returns from ape-based ecotourism.

“Tourism, linked to a significant extent with Rwanda’s Mountain Gorilla populations, now surpasses coffee and tea exports as Rwanda’s number one foreign exchange earner,” UNEP says in its release.

It is planned to dispatch guides and operators from successful ecotourism programs in East Africa to countries such as Gabon to boost the success of ecotourism initiatives in West Africa.

YoG also aims to improve the management of national and cross border populations of primates and ones living in National Parks by strengthening cooperation between range states and providing improved support for rangers and other key personnel.

YoG-logo.jpgConservation action includes ecotourism, sustainable timber harvesting and improved agricultural practices which can support reforestation campaigns, anti-poaching efforts and implementation of development projects. One focus will be on the regions bordering areas protected for gorilla conservation.

Developmental projects include schools and educational initiatives alongside ones that cover water supplies and health care.

Communities sharing habitat with the gorillas are informed about the value of intact ecosystems and the catastrophic consequences of their loss. Applicable wildlife law will eventually be translated into local languages.

It is hoped that corridors will be established to link separate subpopulations of gorillas.


Photo by Michael Nichols/NGS

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More than forty years in U.S., UK, and South African media gives David Max Braun global perspective and experience across multiple storytelling platforms. His coverage of science, nature, politics, and technology has been published/broadcast by the BBC, CNN, NPR, AP, UPI, National Geographic, TechWeb, De Telegraaf, Travel World, and Argus South African Newspapers. He has published two books and won several journalism awards. In his 22-year career at National Geographic he was VP and editor in chief of National Geographic Digital Media, and the founding editor of the National Geographic Society blog, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society's mission and initiatives. He also directed the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship, awarded to Americans seeking the opportunity to spend nine months abroad, engaging local communities and sharing stories from the field with a global audience. A regular expert on National Geographic Expeditions, David also lectures on storytelling for impact. He has 120,000 followers on social media: Facebook  Twitter  LinkedIn