UNEP: New Gorilla Airlift Sparks Calls for Stronger Controls on Natural Resource Smuggling

UN Peacekeepers in DR Congo are planning a new gorilla rescue airlift next month, in what may be one of the first operations conducted under their new mandate. As of 1 July, the UN Peacekeeping Mission in DR Congo (MONUC) will convert to a stabilization mission, as per a recent decision by the UN Security Council.

The rescue is being carried out amid concerns for the future of the endangered species and recommendations by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and INTERPOL to strengthen the capacity of the UN Mission and law enforcement bodies to combat cross-border environmental crime in the Greater Congo Basin and gorilla range states.

The operation, planned for mid July, is the second to be conducted by UN forces in DR Congo as part of a wider effort to combat the illegal cross-border trade in baby gorillas, which has intensified in recent years with the proliferation of armed groups in the region.

The first rescue mission was conducted by the peacekeeping mission (MONUC) on 27 May, when four eastern lowland baby gorillas, seized from poachers, were flown to safety by UN helicopters to a sanctuary in Kasughu in North Kivu, DRC. The second airlift will involve transporting another six babies to the sanctuary. Together, the orphaned gorillas are hoped to form a new „family“ of ten. The ultimate objective is to rehabilitate the gorillas and to reintroduce them back in their natural environment.

Last Stand for the Gorilla

According to the UNEP report, entitled „The Last Stand for the Gorilla“, unless urgent action is taken to strengthen the enforcement of environmental law and counter poaching, endangered gorillas may largely disappear from the Greater Congo Basin, in the next fifteen years.

Previous projections by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), made in 2002, suggested that only 10 per cent of the original ranges would remain by 2030.

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