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Gorillas and Their Habitats

Gorillas and Their Habitats

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Gorillas and Their Habitats A Legal Review
Gorillas and Their Habitats A Legal Review

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Environmental Policy


Law, 40/6 (2010)


Africa and Southeast Asia Gorillas and Their Habitats
– A Legal Review –
by Balraj Sidhu*
“Sustainable management of wildlife and other natural resources not only preserves gorilla habitat, but it provides long-term livelihoods for people and helps secure the future of planet” Ian Redmond, UN Ambassador for the Year of the Gorilla The great apes share their living space with many millions of people in West and Central Africa and Southeast Asia. The largest of all the great apes, gorillas have been a source of inspiration and fascination for humans. Genetic analyses indicate that they share 97.7 percent of their genes with humans.1 They have been shown to possess self-awareness, remarkable intelligence and an ability to communicate with signs and symbols. Unfortunately, gorillas as a whole remain endangered and are under renewed threat. The conservation of viable populations of each of its species is necessary to prevent their extinction but this presents a difficult challenge to humanity. The fate of the great apes is closely tied to ours as they inhabit some of the last remaining tropical rainforests – ecosystems that not only supply water, food and medicine but also play a global role in carbon sequestration and thus in combating climate change.2 A failure to save them from extinction would truly be an irreversible loss and a bad omen for humanity’s future prospects. With current trends suggesting that all species will be extinct in this century, therefore, new mechanisms must be created to reverse this trajectory.

Gorilla Status and Distribution

Our understanding of gorillas has significantly in­ reased over the last four decades. Scientists have entered c their world and discovered both their social complexity and their key role in the ecology of their habitats. There are four widely recognised gorilla subspecies belonging to two species. Gorillas are found naturally in ten African countries and are protected by law in all of them.3 Both species are also listed on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which bans all international trade (live or dead, including products and derivatives) primarily for commercial purposes.

Habitat and Food

The gorilla is a forest species. They inhabit tropical rain forests, forest edges and clearings, riverine forests,

Table 1. The Conservation Status of Gorillas4
Species Subspecies Western Gorilla (Gorilla gorilla) Western Lowland Gorilla (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) Critically Endangered Angola (Cabinda only), Cameroon, Central African Republic, Congo DRC (far western border near Cabinda only), Equatorial Guinea, Gabon Appendix I since 1975 Annex I since 2005 More than 125,000, possibly ~ 200,000 individuals Cross River Gorilla (Gorilla gorilla diehli) Critically Endangered Eastern Gorilla (Gorilla beringei) Mountain Gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei) Critically Endangered Two distinct populations: one in the Virunga Volcanoes Conservation Area shared by DRC, Rwanda and Uganda, and one mostly in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda but ranging into the contiguous Sarambwe Gorilla Special Reserve in the DRC Appendix I since 1975 Annex I since 2005 Eastern Lowland Gorilla (Gorilla beringei graueri) Endangered

Red List


Nigeria (Cross River State only) and Cameroon (SW province only)

Endemic to eastern DRC


Appendix I since 1975 Annex I since 2005

Appendix I since 1975 Annex I since 2005 May be as low as 5,000 individuals, down from 17,000 in 1995; extremely difficult to survey due to political instability


250–300 individuals

~ 720 individuals

* Doctoral Scholar, Centre for International Legal studies, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India.

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Environmental Policy


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swamps and abandoned, cultivated fields. Western and Eastern Lowland Gorillas live in tropical forests where herb densities are lower and fruit is more abundant compared to high-altitude montane forests which are the characteristic habitat of Mountain Gorillas.5 Many, but not all, Western Gorilla habitats include open clearings covered with year-round herbaceous vegetation or large swamps bordering rivers. The decline of gorilla populations has been driven by direct and indirect human intervention. The following factors pose the main threats to the long-term survival of gorillas in their natural habitat:6 1. Habitat loss, fragmentation and degradation : Increasing deforestation as a result of excessive and illegal logging or burning of forests, the expansion of agriculture, the commercial charcoal trade, development of infrastructure such as forest roads and mining (e.g., coltan, gold) all contribute to habitat loss and fragmentation. 2. Hunting for bushmeat: The demand for bushmeat is growing and hunters can often earn more from selling bushmeat than from other legal economic activities. Killing gorillas for their meat has had a devastating impact on gorilla populations, especially when they live close to humans.7 3. War and local conflicts: Many gorilla range States have unstable political climates, with war and local conflicts making it hard to ensure effective implementation of conservation measures. Rebel groups have occupied large swathes of national parks and important forest ecosystems. New estimates suggest that the numbers of Eastern Lowland Gorillas may have plummeted by 70 percent. 4. Capture and sale of live specimens: The sale of live specimens and use of body parts in traditional medicine are additional threats to gorillas. To capture one live infant at least two adults are killed, and four out of five infants die before reaching skilled care. Thus, to procure one live infant, 14 gorillas are likely to have died. The future prospects for gorillas are particularly grim as they reproduce slowly. 5. Cross-species transmission of disease: Ebola hemorrhagic fever (EFH) appears to be a major driver in ­ gorilla population declines in Africa. HF is caused by the Ebola virus (EBOV), a negative-strand RNA virus of the family Filoviridae. EBOV is transmitted through direct contact with body fluids of infected animals or persons. Research indicates that, in conjunction with other threats, this creates “a recipe for rapid extinction” especially as Ebola can spread through gorilla populations which are so remote as to be safe from other human threats.8


In spite of all conservation and restoration efforts to date, the fact remains that gorillas are on the brink

Conservation Measures for Gorillas and Their Habitats

of extinction and continue to face severe threats. Many national and international governmental and nongovernmental organisations are working to multiply conservation actions and reverse this downward trend. The Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) is an intergovernmental treaty concerned exclusively with the conservation of migratory species and the habitats on which they depend. The CMS allows Member States to conclude specialised species agreements but also allows non-party States to have an opportunity to participate without having to join the Convention. In circumstances where the species concerned has an unfavourable conservation status (e.g., listed in Appendix I or Appendix II of the Convention), the range States are required to conclude agreements to protect these species, with a view to restoring them to a favourable conservation status or maintaining such a status.9 The CMS further states that each such Agreement should cover the whole of the range of the migratory species concerned, deal with more than one migratory species wherever possible and be open to all range States even if they are not parties to the Convention.10 The CMS has striven to bring more States into its fold for the protection of migratory species through these Agreements. These Agreements11 have become major tools in conservation strategies as they are of a less formal nature, easily negotiable and consensus is relatively easier to arrive at. In 2006, the CMS requested the Royal Belgian Institute for Natural Sciences, in partnership with the Great Apes Survival Partnership (GRASP) and in consultation with the gorilla range States and GRASP members, to develop a gorilla conservation agreement to be implemented via a regional, transborder Action Plan.12 The first meeting of the range States for the negotiation of an Agreement on the Conservation of Gorillas and their Habitats, under the auspices of the CMS, took place in Paris, 22–26 October 2007. The Agreement text was finalised during the meeting. The geographical scope of this Agreement is all the range States of all species and subspecies of gorillas.13 The CMS Gorilla Agreement was open for signature on 26 October 2007 at the Congo Basin Forest Partnership Meeting.14 It was signed by the Ministers of the Environment of the Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic. The Agreement came into force in 2008. The main objective of the Agreement is to help conserve and restore gorilla populations and their habitats to a favourable conservation status, primarily by establishing or reinforcing coordinated transboundary activities or projects. This in turn should make a tangible contribution to Central African forest biodiversity and allow the States concerned to combine conservation and long-lasting economic development. The provisions of this Agreement neither affect the rights and obligations of any Party deriving from existing international treaties, conventions or agreements nor the right of any Party to maintain or adopt stricter measures for the conservation of gorillas and their habitat.15 The

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Agreement envisages general conservation measures to be adopted by the Parties including:16 • Identifying sites and habitats for gorillas occurring within their territories and ensuring the protection, management and rehabilitation and restoration of these sites; • In the case of transboundary habitats, coordinating their efforts to eradicate poaching; • Reinforcing and supporting capacity-building measures for the judiciary and law enforcement agencies; • Supporting initiatives to stop the spread of Ebola and other infectious diseases; • Investigating problems posed by human activities and endeavouring to implement remedial measures; • Cooperating in emergency situations with the assistance of humanitarian agencies and undertaking international concerted actions in accordance with relevant national and international legal frameworks; • Making efforts to prevent conflicts between humans and gorillas through appropriate land-use planning; • Cooperating in the development, harmonisation and enforcement of national policies and legislative measures for the conservation of gorillas and their habitats; • Cooperating in the development of appropriate training programmes; • Exchanging information and results from research, monitoring, conservation and education programmes; • Initiating or supporting research into the biology and ecology of gorillas by establishing joint cooperative research and monitoring programmes; and • Encouraging awareness raising about the importance of protecting gorillas. The Meeting of Parties (MOP) is the decision-making body of this Agreement. Each Party is to designate an Authority to implement this Agreement as well as prepare a report on its implementation of the Agreement with particular reference to the conservation measures it has undertaken.17 The Agreement also provides for setting up a Technical Committee to provide scientific and technical advice and information to MOP. The Secretariat helps in carrying out administrative functions. The Agreement lays out an Action Plan which Parties shall undertake to implement the above-mentioned conservation measures. The specific actions include:18 a) conservation of all species and sub-species of gorillas; b) habitat conservation; c) management of human activities; d) research and monitoring; e) education and information; f) implementation and enforcement of gorilla conservation policies; g) reduction of the impact of disease; h) contribution to the sustainable development of local communities; and i) reduction of human-gorilla conflict. This Action Plan was finalised in late November and discussed at the first MOP held in Rome from 28

November–4 December 2008. While adopting the Action Plan, four individual draft action plans (one for each of the four gorilla taxa) drawn up on the basis of existing national plans and regional plans, were approved.19 The first MOP stressed that the Action Plan must relate to work being done nationally and to gorilla conservation in the context of the needs of neighbouring communities. It should also relate to work at a global level.

Assessment of the Gorilla Agreement

The CMS Agreement on the Conservation of Gorillas and their Habitats encourages as well as calls for the implementation of general conservation measures and an Action Plan which is subject to regular monitoring. The Agreements negotiated under the CMS umbrella have several advantages over other formal and legally binding instruments. These flexible instruments – with their hard shell but soft underbelly20 – are readily adaptable to meeting changing circumstances, and they have the potential to stimulate urgently needed actions on the ground. The Gorilla Agreement and the projects which will result from its Action Plan could positively contribute to promoting the long-term survival of gorillas, their forest

Courtesy: YoG

habitat and dependent human populations. It appears that it will help States in combining conservation and robust economic development. There are some serious concerns that the attention given to these instruments may depend on the interests of the government of the day and the individuals who contributed to their drafting. Normally, the commitments that governments make within the framework of these instruments bear the caveat “subject to availability of funds”. It means over the longer term their capacity to “deliver the goods” might be constrained. The Agreement has a serious lacuna as far as “voluntary contributions”21 is concerned. This has resulted in the dwindling of conservation efforts as often States procrastinate over making funds available. Significantly, the overall performance in successfully implementing measures and plans is determined, to a large extent, by the involvement and participation at the grass-roots level of the community groups with whom the great apes share their natural habitat. Poverty and 0378-777X/10/$27.50 © 2010 IOS Press


Environmental Policy


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lack of knowledge drive them to use natural resources and wildlife unsustainably. In this context, community efforts should be directed towards effectively minimising loss of biodiversity and at same time augmenting the resource base for securing livelihood options. In order to generate greater publicity of the plight of gorillas, the United Nations (UN) declared 2009 the Year of the Gorilla (YoG). It was a joint initiative of UNEP-CMS, UNEP/UNESCO, GRASP and the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA). More than US$130,000 was raised as the result of the Year for filed projects aimed at preventing endangered gorilla species from becoming extinct. Elizabeth Mrema, Executive Secretary of UNEP-CMS, opined that With the support of innovative gorilla projects the UN Year of the Gorilla has created a permanent legacy. Conserving gorillas not only helps safeguarding their habitat, which is shared by us, but it also addresses the major challenges of climate change and poverty.22 The YoG initiative had a number of goals including:23 • Encourage strategic and practical approaches to gorilla conservation; • Create awareness among people of ecosystem services (including carbon sequestration and storage) and the intrinsic value of flora and fauna; • Provide alternative income opportunities to poaching, logging and mining through capacity building such as by training forest workers and making them realise the importance of sustainable approaches for their own livelihoods; • Educate the wider public on gorillas and the threats they face, and promote cultural attitudes conducive to the conservation of gorillas; • Educate on the potential of ecotourism and carbon finance; • Encourage cooperation between zoo-based and fieldbased conservation bodies as well as wildlife rangers and forest managers; • Improve the monitoring of protected areas with the help of new technology; and • Improve the capacity of government wildlife agencies to combat poaching through information, equipment and training. These goals are inspirational and should encourage all relevant stakeholders to take up this noble cause in earnest. Each gorilla range State now needs to put into place its own policy and legal steps to give effect to the letter and spirit of the Gorilla Agreement as well as the aspirations of the Year of the Gorilla. Gorillas are a vital part of our ecosystem and play a multi-layered role in shaping the architecture of entire forests. These forests are of utmost importance to humans and other species as sources of food, water, medicine

Year of the Gorilla (YoG) 2009

and timber, and as regulators of our changing climate. The extinction of gorillas will also pose a threat to the survival of local communities who are dependent on the forests. So it is high time that concerted conservation and restoration efforts are made to save the gorilla species, humankind’s closest emotional and biological relative. The Gorilla Agreement is a laudable first step in this direction. Further, declaration of 2009 as the Year of the Gorilla underscored the need for concrete measures for conservation of the gorilla. Sincere commitments from the concerned range States are further required to protect gorillas and their habitat. In this process, the participation of diverse stakeholders is critical in minimising wildlife loss. In fact many of the dedicated civil society groups could play a pivotal role in providing an interface between government and local communities. Notes
1 See http://www.unep.org/grasp/docs/GRASP_LeafletE_LR.pdf. 2 Nellemann, C., Redmond, I. and Refisch, J. (Eds) 2010. The Last Stand of the Gorilla – Environmental Crime and Conflict in the Congo Basin. A Rapid Response Assessment. United Nations Environment Programme, GRID-Arendal. Available online at: http://www.grida.no/_res/site/file/publications/gorilla/ GorillaStand_screen.pdf. 3 For distribution map, see http://www.yog2009.org/index.php?option=com_c ontent&view=article&id=128&Itemid=1. 4 Nellemann et al., supra note 2. See also Savage, T.S. 1847. “Communication describing the external character and habits of a new species of Troglodytes (T. gorillae)”. Proceedings of the Boston Society for Natural History: 245–247. 5 Supra note 3. 6 Ibid. See also Redmond, I. 1989. Trade in gorillas and other primates in the People’s Republic of Congo, 42. Report to International Primate Protection League; Redmond, I. 2006. “Presence of Great Apes in Bas Congo”. Gorilla Journal 33, available online at http://www.berggorilla.de/english/gjournal/texte/33bas-congo. html. 7 Wilkie, D.S. and Carpenter, J.F. 1999. “Bushmeat hunting in the Congo Basin: an assessment of impacts and options for mitigation”. Biodiversity and Conservation 8: 927–955. 8 Leroy, E.M. et al. 2004. “Multiple Ebola virus transmission events and rapid decline of central African wildlife”. Science 303: 387–390. See also Caillaud, D. et al. 2006. “Gorilla susceptibility to Ebola virus : The cost of sociality”. Current Biology 16(13): R489. 9 Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals 1979, Articles IV(3), IV(4) and V(1). 10 Ibid., Articles V(2) and (3). Article V(4) gives the basic characteristics that should be included in each Agreement. 11 At present, there are seven CMS Agreements: Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels; African-Eurasian Waterbird Agreement; Agreement on the Conservation of Cetaceans of the Black Sea, Mediterranean Sea and Contiguous Atlantic Area; Agreement on the Conservation of Small Cetaceans of the Baltic and North Seas; Agreement on the Conservation of Populations of European Bats; Agreement on the Conservation of Seals in the Wadden Sea; and Agreement on the Conservation of Gorillas and Their Habitats. 12 See, http://www.yog2009.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=articl e&id=59&Itemid=75. 13 It consists of ten range States namely, Angola, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Congo Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Nigeria, Rwanda and Uganda. 14 Agreement on the Conservation of Gorillas and Their Habitats (Gorilla Agreement), see http://www.naturalsciences.be/science/projects/gorilla. 15 Ibid., Article XI. 16 Ibid., Article III. 17 Ibid., Article IV. 18 Ibid., Article VIII. 19 See http://www.cms.int/bodies/meetings/regional/gorillas/pdf_docs/ MOP1_report_E.pdf. 20 Desai, B.H. 2010. Multilateral Environmental Agreements: Legal Status of the Secretariats, 66. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press. 21 Gorilla Agreement, supra note 14, Article IV(3). 22 See http://www.unep.org/newscentre/default.asp. 23 See http://www.yog2009.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article &id=128&Itemid=1.


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