Since teaming up with the Pole Pole Foundation in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2018 our community conservation and education project has enabled over 230 local people to visit the rare Eastern Lowland Gorillas they are learning to protect.
Trekking to see the gorillas and learn about their natural habitat has raised awareness of the importance of protecting these great apes among the people living in the villages bordering the Kahuzi-Biega National Park.
This unique project, which we are proud to have established alongside the Pole Pole Foundation, all started when its founder and renowned local primatologist and conservationist, John Kahakwa, asked Wild Frontiers, as an adventure travel company, to help re-generate tourism in the area.
With Wild Frontiers’ history of bringing visitors back to the more challenging parts of the world, places that have suffered years of conflict or political isolation, we did not hesitate when John approached us for help.
Taking (lights, cameras and..) action Wild Frontiers MD & our foundation chairman, Jonny Bealby, travelled to the Democratic Republic of Congo with broadcaster Kate Humble to meet John and make a short film about the gorillas that roam the Kahuzi-Biega National Park , which we hoped would help rejuvenate interest for travel in the region.
While there Jonny and Kate visited the Pole Pole Foundation, established by John to educate local people about the benefits of the forest and the wildlife that lives within it.
Meaning ‘slowly, slowly’ in Swahili, the Pole Pole Foundation has developed a number of invaluable projects to help improve the prospects of the local people and in turn help protect the Eastern Lowland Gorillas, including afforestation, environment education, anti-poaching patrols, training for former poachers and the construction of fish ponds to provide local communities with a source of protein and help prevent the illegal poaching of bush meat.
Visiting during its 25th anniversary celebrations, Jonny and Kate sat with young children in a school built by the foundation and listened as the headmaster explained the importance of the forest and the animals that live there to the local community. They took part in a tree planting ceremony, adding a few more saplings to the thousands of trees Pole Pole have planted in an effort to prevent people from destroying the forest for firewood and met a former poacher, who is now trained as a gorilla tracker.
It soon became apparent that the local people would have a better understanding of the gorillas and their habitat if they had the opportunity to see them first-hand. While people travelled from around the world to see the gorillas, very few local people had the same opportunity.
With that we decided to dedicate our major annual fundraiser ‘An Evening of Adventure’ in February 2018 to the cause, which raised almost £8000. This fantastic amount has funded the national park fees, gorilla trekking permits, transport, guides and trackers for over 230 people.
‘The opportunity generated a real excitement in the communities,’ enthused founder of the Pole Pole Foundation, John Kahekwa.
Amongst those who have taken part in the educational programme, include community groups of men and women, school directors, secondary school students, former poachers and village chiefs.
A group of men from Ikambi village were chosen to participate to highlight the negative effects of hunting for bush meat within the national park.
John felt it would benefit the group to trek to see the lone silverback, Mugaruka. The now 30-plus-year-old gorilla lost his right hand when, as a three-year-old, he was caught in a stretched snare.
‘Hearing our soft noises as we trekked, Mugaruka made a sound to indicate he was close to us’, John reported back. ‘Then there he was calmly holding leaves and shrubs with his left hand’.
‘When the right arm was then seen, the group was shocked. Together they promised to make positive changes to protect the gorillas and the national park.’
Eight women from the same village, some of whom had been arrested in the past for illegally gathering wood and vegetation, were also chosen to undertake the trek to highlight the impact such actions have on the park and its wildlife.
‘We are so grateful to visit the national park. We had the opportunity to visit the lone gorilla, which was victim of poaching and lost a hand. We have seen him face to face in his natural habitat. Now we are going to explain to our women friends and tell our husbands and children to stop poaching in the park because as the gorillas are our neighbours it is our responsibility to protect and conserve them and their habitat.’
This project is an extension of the fantastic work of the Pole Pole Foundation, and one which Wild Frontiers continues to support by making a donation on behalf of every Wild Frontiers client that visits the Congo.