UN blue helmets to airlift nine orphan gorillas to DR Congo nature reserve

30 March 2010 – Nine orphan gorillas will start new lives in a nature reserve in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), thanks to assistance from peacekeepers serving with the United Nations mission in the country, known as MONUC.

Following a request from the Congolese Institute for Nature Conservation (ICCN) and the Diane Fossey Gorilla Fund, blue helmets will airlift three young primates from Goma, in North Kivu province, and six adolescents from neighbouring Rwanda, to Kasugho, near the Tayna Nature Reserve.

Scientists believe that ground transportation would be too difficult and traumatic for the gorillas, and the decision was made to move them by air. They will be accompanied on their trip by veterinarians and other helpers.

“Caring for the Earth we all share is not just the job of governments,” said Alan Doss, head of MONUC, who announced the decision to help relocate the gorillas at a conservation awards ceremony yesterday in the capital, Kinshasa.

“It requires us to reach across boundaries and do things we would not normally expect to do.”

In DRC, Rwanda and Uganda, there are only about 750 Mountain Gorillas and 5,000 Eastern Lowland Gorillas surviving in the wild.

“Transferring these animals will help replenish the population and will contribute to restoring an ecosystem that has suffered, just as the human population has suffered from war and violence,” Mr. Doss, who is also the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for DRC, said.

Hundreds of thousands of people in North Kivu have been uprooted from their homes by violence in recent years.

Last night’s awards ceremony honoured 19 Congolese men and women, eight of whom died last year trying to preserve the DRC’s wildlife and natural resources.

The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) has reported that nearly 200 park rangers have been killed in the ecologically-rich habitats of the Virungas, an area straddling the DRC-Uganda-Rwanda border, in the past 15 years alone.

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