Identifying actions to reduce the threats to great apes and their habitat in the eastern DRC
Key Staff Members: 

The forests of eastern Democratic Republic of Congo are one of the most globally important regions for biodiversity. The Jane Goodall Institute (JGI) with support from the Arcus Foundation and The World We Want Foundation is leading a conservation action planning (CAP) process in the region. The CAPenables the Ministry of the Environment, Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN) and other Congolese actors to better coordinate the cooperation of various stakeholders in protecting biodiversity and great apes in this landscape. Under the leadership of Dario Merlo, JGI’s project coordinator for the Jane Goodall Institute DRC, the CAP process brought together ministers and representatives of national, regional and local government from four provinces, military and police, international NGOs, local organizations and academia.

Background / Issues:

The CAP process targets more than 66 million acres, the size of the State of Colorado, which contain more than 35,000 chimpanzees and somewhere between 2,500-3,000 gorillas.

During the first CAP workshop in early 2011, it was determined that the situation for gorillas is much worse than originally thought. Grauer’s gorillas live only in the landscape covered by the CAP. When the CAP process began, there were believed to be roughly 5,000 Grauer’s gorillas left in the wild. However, the latest estimates seem much lower. Mining and poaching for bushmeat are the greatest threats to the gorillas and chimpanzees.  Habitat loss, fragmentation and degradation, especially for the gorillas, were seen as other serious threats. A combination of GIS modeling and participatory mapping of expert knowledge has been used to identify, georeference and prioritize the most important threats. DigitalGlobe’s QuickBird, WordView 1 and 2 satellites have been used to map illegal settlements and mining sites in key gorilla habitats such as Kahuzi Biega National Park.

Key Project Activities:

Three conservation targets have been identified: chimpanzees, Grauer’s gorillas and their habitat. CAP participants have agreed to focus conservation strategies on great ape and habitat distribution, which will be measured by the presence or absence of gorillas and chimpanzees within five-kilometer grids.

Threat abatement strategies for great ape conservation in the landscape were developed. 73 participants identified threat abatement strategies, with no more than three strategies being identified per group. Common themes between the three groups were:

    • identifying the priority great ape populations within the landscape;
    • education, public awareness and advocacy;
    • capacity-building in the protected areas,
    • application of wildlife laws within the landscape and
    • land use management planning


In early 2011, Dr. Lilian Pintea, JGI’s vice president of Conservation Science, traveled to Goma, DRC, where JGI was leading a CAP workshop. The Conservation Action Plan (CAP) workshop was the first in a series of meetings planned to identify strategies and actions to reduce the threats to great apes and their habitat in a critical landscape of the eastern DRC.

Representatives from the DRC NGO community, provincial and national government, police force, mining ministry, and additional key stakeholders were all in attendance.


A GIS database was developed in time for the workshop, compiling relevant data on ecology, habitat and threats to great apes in eastern DRC. More than seventy GIS layers describing ecologic, social and economic characteristics of the landscape have been compiled along with very high resolution imagery from DigitalGlobe. At the workshop participants shared their chimpanzee and gorilla survey data that have been cleaned, reprojected in a standard format, and integrated with other layers in the GIS database. Historical distributions of gorillas along with the expert knowledge have been digitized and georeferenced. Data gaps on the current status, abundance and distribution of great ape populations have been identified and georeferenced. This makes the current GIS database as one of the most complete views describing our status of knowledge of great apes in the eastern DRC region.
Maps printed by Esri’s Kurt Eckerstrom provided a great way to visualize and better understand the status of and threats to apes and their habitat. These maps have also helped communicate scientific information across cultures and varied fields of expertise. Dr. Pintea reported that the main advantages of the participatory mapping exercise was not only to record critical knowledge from workshop participants, but also to educate them about great ape conservation needs in the eastern DRC.

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