Web charity helps save Congo's gorillas
GOMA, DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO
On a blackboard in a classroom in Stratton Elementary School in Colorado Springs, Colo., a montage of photographs and fact sheets has been pinned up under the heading "Silverback Gorillas."Skip to next paragraph
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Together, the 43 children in the second-grade class give $244 a month to support a rarely paid and poorly equipped wildlife ranger half a world away in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Joseph Aloma Major is a foot soldier in the war to save the world's critically endangered mountain gorillas, an employee of the Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN), Congo's wildlife service.
Before the money started flowing from Colorado, directly donated online via a new charity website, WildlifeDirect.org, Mr. Aloma could barely do his job.
He had not been paid for several months. His patrol post had no fuel and no vehicle to put it in. And, until last month, he faced the danger of attacks from rebels commanded by dissident Army General Laurent Nkunda, whose troops controlled much of the land surrounding the park.
But now that Congo's government has signed a cease-fire with Mr. Nkunda's forces, the area is safe enough to patrol. And thanks to generous donations from people like Stratton second-grader Kori Hernandez, who donated her entire piggy bank (about $30), rangers like Aloma are now getting the money to make protection of the endangered gorillas possible again.
The 3,000-square-mile Virunga National Park, a World Heritage Site in eastern Congo where Aloma works, is home to 100 of the world's last remaining 700 mountain gorillas.
For 13 years or more, it has been a hideout for a jumble of armed militia who have wreaked havoc across the region.
Since 1996, an estimated 120 rangers have been killed in the line of duty.
As recently as January, five patrol stations were attacked and rangers forced to flee. Two silverback gorillas were slaughtered; the remains of one, including its decapitated head, were thrown in a pit.
"Virunga is the oldest such park in Africa and is home to the greatest number of mammal, bird, and reptile species on the continent," says Emmanuel de Merode, Wildlife Direct's Kenya-based director. "This, together with the mountain gorilla population, is a key to the economic relaunch of Congo, but after eight years of civil war the ICCN needs some help."
Thousands of tourists a year pay more than $400 a day or more to see mountain gorillas in neighboring Rwanda and Uganda, and locals would like to have them come to war-torn Congo, too.
The idea is simple. Wildlife Direct acts as a conduit for information, supporting conservation workers in hazardous and remote locations.
The organization, which is registered in Washington, has sent Web wizards out to Africa, where they have established a series of online blogs, written by conservationists, rangers, and bush veterinarians, detailing their daily struggle to safeguard endangered animals.
Back in the West, Web-surfing animal-lovers who read the postings can click a "donate now" link. Up pops a page with a breakdown of options.
A day's patrol rations for five rangers costs $15. A pair of boots is $35; a full uniform, $45; a dome tent, $60.
Or, like the pupils in the Colorado school, donors can become Gorilla Conservation Associates and cover a ranger's $244-a-month salary package.
When the transaction is confirmed, Wildlife Direct contacts a partner organization they are working with on the ground. On the Mara Conservancy in southern Kenya, this is The Colobus Trust. In Cameroon, it is The Last Great Ape Project.