eases such as Ebola. These previous estimates were therefore too optimistic. Despite some success stories in certain sites, the combination of threats indicates that most of the remaining gorilla populations could become locally extinct by as early as 2020–2025 – in little over a decade, unless more substantial action is taken now.
Many of the region’s national parks are situated in areas of insecurity restricting the access of park rangers. Militias are exploiting the natural resources ranging from gold, minerals, firewood to poaching of hippos and elephants. Park rangers are prepared to stop illegal hunting and other forms of illegal use, but they are not present in sufficient numbers and do not have the training or equipment to actually expel armed groups from protected areas. In the Virunga National Park alone, 190 park rangers have been killed over the past 15 years.
In comparison, the near 20,000 strong UN force, MONUC, has lost 150 staff across a much larger region. MONUC has played and continues to play an important role in bringing stability to the region. The success of this UN peacekeeping operation could however be strengthened further if it could be linked to halting the underlying illegal extraction of resources that finance the rebel militias. This might be achieved by ex- panding its mandate to take full control of border crossings in close trans-boundary collaboration with neighboring countries and appropriate international law enforcement and investiga- tive bodies.
Sustained trans-boundary collaboration in law enforcement has proven effective in reversing the decline of the critically en- dangered mountain gorillas and other species in the parks, in spite of the major challenges involved. Particularly around the Virunga National Park, trans-boundary law enforcement col- laboration has proven effective in limiting illegal extraction of resources and reducing the transportation across borders of re- sources crucial for the continued financing of the militias. The loss of both rainforest and gorillas has been reversed in these areas and populations of the critically endangered mountain
gorilla are on the rise as a direct result. Substantially upgrad- ing and expanding such support, training and trans-boundary coordination, drawing on the local knowledge of the park rang- ers within the off road networks and where required, involv- ing UN forces in controlling trans-boundary movement of re- sources outside the protected areas, provides a real option for success for the entire region. Control of the road system and particularly all border crossings is vital, however, for reducing the pressure on the parks – as well reducing the extraction and export of resources through the multinational companies pres- ent in the region, directly financing the militias and the contin- ued warfare.
In order to halt this destructive cycle, it is essential that resourc- es and training for law enforcement personnel and rangers are substantially increased. This includes direct support to interna- tional bodies with mandates for international law enforcement such as INTERPOL and the Lusaka Agreement Task Force (LATF) and expanding the mandate of MONUC to tackle illegal trans-boundary transport of resources across the borders. Only by halting the profits – the primary motivation of the militias and companies involved – is there any hope that the conflict, destruction of rainforests and loss of the last eastern lowland gorillas come to an end.
Western lowland and Cross River Gorillas also face a similar fate – though without the involvement of militias in most cases – unless wildlife law enforcement can be increased. Bushmeat hunters, traders and consumers must be encouraged to operate within the law and overall consumption must be brought down to a sustainable level. But ape meat is only a tiny proportion of the million tonnes of Bushmeat consumed each year in the Congo Basin, and so removing it from the diet of consumers would not greatly affect their protein intake – but it would halt the current decline in gorilla populations being subjected to hunting. It is clear from the fragile recovery of mountain go- rilla populations that success is possible, but equally clear that the resources being directed at other gorilla populations are not equal to the task.