50 Stories: Community conservation

On April 29, 2011, WWF celebrated 50 years of environmental conservation. Join us as we highlight 50 stories in 50 days, looking back at what we’ve achieved together and looking forward to another 50 years.
When we see the benefit something brings, we take care of it.
That’s why surfers clean litter from beaches. Gardeners plant flowers to attract bees. A community campaigns to stop a new supermarket being built on the local green space where children play and wild orchids grow.
And it’s why, in Africa, mountain gorilla numbers are increasing.
Tourists come to Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to catch a glimpse of these magnificent creatures. The tourists mean money, jobs and a better standard of living for nearby villagers. Because the gorillas are such an important resource, local people are committed to protecting them.
It’s just one example of how we’ve helped local communities to benefit from conservation. By looking after their own natural resources, people all over the world are improving their own lives – and making our shared vision of a world where humans live in harmony with nature a reality.

(c) Fishermen, Tikina Wai, Fiji (c) Brent Stirton/Getty Images
What’s at stake?
Mountain gorillas are one of humanity’s closest relatives, sharing as much as 99% of our DNA. But over the years, much of their forest habitat has been destroyed. Poaching has also taken a heavy toll. Now only about 700 hundred remain in the wild.
Mountain gorilla habitats are protected in national parks, but this alone cannot guarantee their survival. In a region wracked by war and poverty, the people living near mountain gorillas have difficulty meeting even their most basic needs like food and fresh water.
Only with the support of local communities will we secure a future for gorillas. And it’s not just about gorillas: from saving rainforests to changing fishing practices, community-led conservation has a vital role to play.
The story so far
One of the biggest lessons we’ve learned over the last 50 years is that conservation works best when local communities actively participate. Rather than protecting nature from people, we look for practical solutions that allow humans and other species to thrive together.
Our work with mountain gorillas in the Virunga volcanoes on the borders of the DRC, Rwanda and Uganda shows just how successful this approach can be.
In 1991, we helped set up the International Gorilla Conservation Programme (IGCP), in partnership with the African Wildlife Foundation and Flora and Fauna International. IGCP helps authorities manage a cross-border network of protected areas, and has helped develop mountain gorilla tourism.
The money this tourism brings to the economy gives local people a powerful incentive, and the means, to protect the gorillas and their habitat. And it’s working: a census in 2010 recorded 480 gorillas in the area, an increase of 100 since 2003. Mountain gorillas are now the only great ape in the world whose population isn’t in severe decline.
We’ve seen similar success stories elsewhere:

  • Philippines: We’ve helped eco-tourism to flourish on the island of Donsol. Visitors now flock to see schools of endangered whale sharks, the world’s largest fish, bringing hundreds of thousands of dollars into the local economy.
  • India: Arunachal Pradesh is one of the only regions in India where indigenous people control their own forest regions. We’ve been working with them to create Community Conserved Areas, special areas where development is carefully managed and conservation regulations are strictly enforced.
  • Brazil: We’re helping local people in the state of Acre to make a better living by protecting the Amazon rainforest than by clearing it for logging or farming. We worked with the state government to introduce a new law that recognizes the huge value of the environmental services – such as storing carbon – that the rainforest provides, and offers people incentives to conserve it.

Did you know?
Mountain gorillas weren’t discovered until 1902. They’re the largest type of gorilla – adult males weigh 220kg and have an arm span of over 2m.
Facts and stats
US$678,000 – money local communities in Uganda earn each year from tourists who come to see mountain gorillas
US$1 million – annual value to the Ugandan economy of each of its gorillas
120,000 sq km – area of wildlife habitat sustainably managed by communities in Namibia, where wildlife sightings have almost doubled since 2004
What next?
We involve local people in all our conservation work, and we’re looking to replicate the success of our community-led conservation projects in other areas.
But we’re also looking to a much bigger community: the global one.
Ultimately, we all benefit from nature’s services. We want to show people all over the world that looking after our one and only planet is in everyone’s interest.
How you can help
Buying Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified wood and paper benefits local people as well as wildlife: always look out for the FSC label when you’re shopping.
Find out more about mountain gorillas.
Be part of the celebration!