Though Maiko's one million hectares (3,800 square miles) of rain forest have been protected by law since 1970, "in reality, it's what we call a paper park," Bonilla said. "It exists in law, but very little, if anything, has been going on in the way of protection on the ground," he said.
"Maiko Park has never received one thin dime of international support before now," Mehlman agreed. He added that some of CI's new funding would be used to support building infrastructure, including a new research station, and providing technical assistance, equipment, and training for park guards. "We need to get wildlife authority staffers out into the park to do anti-poaching patrols and educational awareness programs," he said.
DFGFI is also working with local people to help them set up a unique corridor of community reserves potentially covering three million hectares (11,500 square miles) of land that will link Kahuzi-Biega with Maiko National Park.
Community reserves are under the traditional authority of local chiefs and have been welcomed by many communities as a good opportunity to manage resources and develop economic alternatives in the form of ecotourism and agroforestry (the production of food, crops, and trees on the same land). "These communities want to pick themselves up by the bootstraps and pull themselves out of the mess left by the civil war," Mehlman said.
"It's certainly tragic to think that two-thirds of eastern lowland gorillas have disappeared in the last decade," said Brenda Bradley, western lowland gorilla researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany. "But it's great that [these nongovernmental organizations] are making a concerted effort to reverse this trend. Given the success that conservation efforts have had in saving the mountain gorillas, we can be optimistic [for lowland gorillas]," she said.
"It's really important that money is going into eastern Congo," said Amy Vedder, former mountain gorilla fieldworker and vice president of the Living Landscapes Program at the New York City-based Wildlife Conservation Society. "Grave concerns exist for the status of the eastern lowland gorilla.
"A large infusion of money over a short period of time can help start significant conservation activities, but the most important factor in success will be a long-term commitment made by government, local actors, and conservation organization partners," Vedder said.
Future financial resources to continue the work that begins this year might come from the Congolese government or perhaps a long-term financial mechanism such as a trust fund, CI's Bonilla said.
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