Thanks to Rainforest Trust’s local partner, donors and other supporters, Itombwe Nature Reserve now safeguards approximately 1,416,320 acres of one of Africa’s most biodiverse regions, establishing urgently needed protection for at least 53 globally threatened species, including the critically endangered Grauer’s Gorilla in the eastern Congo.
On June 23, 2016, the Provincial Governor of South Kivu in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) officially approved the boundaries of Itombwe Nature Reserve, which now fully establishes the protected area and secures vital habitat for dozens of threatened wildlife species. A critical final step to safeguarding the area, the formally established boundaries were legally required before effective on-the-ground protection could take place.
The urgent need for protecting the area was promoted by the results of a report highlighting the shocking population collapse of the Grauer’s Gorilla (Gorilla beringei graueri) – an endangered subspecies of the Eastern Gorilla – during the last 20 years of civil unrest in the DRC. Results of the new study point to a 77 percent decrease in the gorilla population, a reduction from an estimated 17,000 individuals in 1995 to just 3,800 individuals today.
The findings highlight the perilous state of the species and galvanize the need for urgent action to protect the gorillas’ last remaining habitat. One of the last strongholds of the Grauer’s Gorilla is the Itombwe massif. Its montane forests cover more than 1.6 million acres, making it the largest intact forest in the region. It is one of a handful of sites in sub-Saharan Africa in which a variety of forest types from lowland rainforest to montane forest still remain.
Due to its remote location and stunning range of habitats, Itombwe is a haven for Grauer’s Gorillas, African Elephants and many other threatened Central African species. Further, Itombwe has been identified as an irreplaceable site for amphibian conservation and has the highest diversity of birds of any site in Africa, hosting an incredible 563 species.
Of at least 53 globally threatened species in the new reserve, the Itombwe Golden Frog (Chrysobatrachus cupreonitens), the Itombwe Nightjar (Caprimulgus prigoginei) and Schouteden’s Swift (Schoutedenapus schoutedeni) are found nowhere else.
Given the global importance of Itombwe and the urgent need to implement real and lasting protection for the area, Rainforest Trust supported its local partner in a bottom-up approach to build community support and local capacity while establishing clear boundaries for Itombwe Nature Reserve. Fortunately, local communities surrounding Itombwe are fully supportive of the new protected area.
“It is absolutely critical to establish clearly demarcated and legally enforceable protected areas to save the Grauer’s Gorilla from extinction,” said Rainforest Trust CEO, Dr. Paul Salaman. “And thanks to our supporters and our local partner, we are proud to have assisted the protection of the Itombwe massif, and not a moment too soon.”
The Itombwe Nature Reserve represents a major step forward for the conservation of Grauer’s Gorillas and Central Africa’s rainforest, providing permanent and secure protection of necessary habitat for this great ape and some of the planet’s most imperiled wildlife.
Rainforest Trust supported the Albertine Rift Program of WCS in a joint collaboration with WWF-DRC and AfriCapacity to protect this vital area.
Header photo: Baby gorilla. Photo by David Schenfeld.