A two-year joint ESA and UNESCO project to chart the habitats of endangered mountain gorillas with satellites came to a fruitful finish in Paris, with end-users receiving final maps and geographical data products for use in the field.
“These maps will help us make our anti-poaching efforts more effective,” said Eulalie Bashige, Director General of the Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN) of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). “We can also clarify the exact location of our national park boundaries, improve our biological inventories of the parks, and plan out gorilla eco-tourism.”
Less than 700 mountain gorillas remain alive, found in highland forests that straddle the borders between Rwanda, Uganda and the DRC. These regions make up a set of five national parks; three of these have been designated World Heritage Sites by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), while the remaining two have been nominated for the same status.
The parks have long boundaries that run across inaccessible and hardly mapped territory, with no compatible maps available across national borders. An influx of refugees into the area in recent years has led to illegal forest clearing for agriculture or fuel, as well as illegal poaching for food, reducing the living space left for the gorillas.
ESA and UNESCO have been working together on a project called Build Environment for Gorilla (BEGo) to precisely chart the region in order to help national conservation agencies and non-governmental organisations working in and around the parks.
During a 7 April meeting at ESA Headquarters in Paris, BEGo partners and end-users including the ICCN, Uganda’s Institute of Tropical Forest Conservation (ITFC) and the International Gorilla Conservation Programme (IGCP) received the final outputs of the project — map products and layers for use in standard GIS software.