Last month, Rainforest Trust reached the milestone of protecting 20 million acres of rainforest since our founding. We achieved (and exceeded!) this benchmark with the designation of three community forests in the Oku region of the Democratic Republic of Congo. We continued to power through the end of the year, permanently protecting several more land parcels in Africa, Latin America and Asia.
That is how we work at Rainforest Trust. Our mission is to protect habitat before developers, poachers and other forest exploiters can claim its resources. We work closely with in-country organizations to buy land and manage it as protected areas for wildlife. And as soon as we make one purchase or designation, we turn around and do another, often in the farthest reaches of the tropics.
But it is especially fitting that the three concessions that took us over 20 million protected acres are community conservation projects. A fundamental aspect of our approach is collaborating with local communities (often indigenous peoples). Those living closest to reserves have the most to gain — and lose — in managing forest resources.
So we help to create educational and livelihood opportunities for people on the ground. Indeed, Rainforest Trust’s success requires bottom-up participation.
“Our experience tells us that local buy-in and involvement at the community level are critical if land is to be permanently protected,” said Rainforest Trust CEO Dr. Paul Salaman. “Caring for communities is fundamental to our approach, and these forest concessions around Oku Wildlife Reserve are a great example of this.”
Each of the recently protected concessions in the Democratic Republic of Congo are community forest concessions that buffer the future Oku Wildlife Reserve. Each community will manage their own land and self-establish sustainability practices. These buffer zones and the future Oku Wildlife Reserve offer protection to the Critically Endangered Grauer’s Gorilla. Estimates place 30 percent of this subspecies here; fewer than 3,800 individuals remain in the wild. Endangered Eastern Chimpanzees also make their home in the primary forests of Oku.
These forest concessions, coupled with the the Oku Wildlife Reserve itself, will protect over 1 million acres of habitat for these primates, as well as other endangered species like the Grey Parrot and Okapi. We partnered with Réserve des Gorilles de Punia and Wildlife Conservation Society DRC to save this habitat.
The critically endangered Grauer’s Gorilla (formerly known as Eastern Lowland Gorilla). Photo by Wildlife Conservation Society DRC.