Good news about the environment is often hard to find these days, as evidence of climate change mounts and more and more toxic chemicals are discovered in our water, land and bodies.
However, last week a bright beacon of hope appeared on the environmental landscape. Uganda, Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo launched a joint effort to protect mountain gorillas.
Less than 1,000 of these close relatives of humans, our fellow great apes, are thought to exist and they live in the mountainous forest that spans the borders of all three of these countries. Gorillas, without the modern conveniences of passports, border guards and long lineups, often cross between these countries, therefore protections brought in by one country are often rendered ineffective by lax protection by one of the other countries. Until recently Rwanda and Congo, at least, were too caught up in human tragedies to devote much in the way of resources to protect the mountain gorillas.
These gorillas are at risk from poaching and encroachment of humans into their habitat. Poaching is driven by souvenir hunters and the taste for gorilla meat, which is considered by some to be a delicacy. Poachers often attempt to kidnap young gorillas and since gorillas live in family groups (like us), several adults will often die trying to protect the youngster.
Protecting these beautiful animals, who are both eerily familiar to us and incredibly remote, is, of course, a moral duty, both as close family members and as fellow Earth dwellers. However a more pragmatic argument for saving the gorillas is now becoming apparent. The gorillas are worth more alive than dead. Tourists are now flocking to see gorillas in the wild and the dollars they bring present a sizable boon to the economies of these countries. Tracking of gorillas by tourists is, and will continue to be, strictly regulated so stress to gorillas is minimized.
Driven moral responsibility or economic incentive, or a bit of both, the agreement announced last week means that for the first time Congo, Rwanda and Uganda, the countries in which the gorillas live, will work together to minimize habitat loss and eliminate poaching. The first four years of this plan, which is expected to cost $6 million, is being funded by the Dutch government.
This is good news for the gorillas but also good news for their cousins the humans. If these troubled nations can work together to ensure the survival of a treasure they all share, then other meaningful change may be within our grasp.
Let us hope this is just the first of many accords between countries to work together to preserve endangered species and endangered ecosystems.