Major Protection for Grauer’s Gorillas in the Congo Rainforest

Project Cost: $1,100,000

Funding Raised: $1,100,000

$1.05 per acre (1 acre = 43,560 sq ft)
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2X The Impact

Thanks to generous support from our donors, we have successfully reached our fundraising goal for this project.

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has the largest extent of tropical rainforests in Africa, covering more than 500 million acres, 60 percent of which is primary forest and more than 80 percent of which is totally unprotected. These forests are home to diverse flora and fauna, encompassing 11,000 species, including several globally threatened and endemic mammals such as the Grauer’s Gorilla, Eastern Chimpanzee, Okapi and Grey Parrot.

In October 2016, the Grauer’s Gorilla, a subspecies of Eastern Gorilla and the world’s largest primate, was up-listed to Critically Endangered by the IUCN. At that time, researchers revealed that about 3,800 Grauer’s Gorillas remained in the wild. An estimated 1,100 individuals (almost 30 percent of the total population) reside within unprotected Oku forests. These forests are also a stronghold for the Eastern Chimpanzee, which is listed as Endangered. Its eastern population has diminished by 40 percent over the last 20 years.

Rainforest Trust, Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) DRC and local Congolese partner Réserve des Gorilles de Punia (RGPu) seek $1,150,697 to create the Oku Wildlife Reserve and four adjacent community-managed Local Community Forestry Concessions in the buffer zone. This protection will encompass more than 1 million acres.

Photo: The critically endangered Grauer’s Gorilla (formerly known as Eastern Lowland Gorilla). Photo by Rainforest Trust.

Fast Facts

Oku Wildlife Reserve, Congo Basin, Democratic Republic of Congo


Price per Acre:

Key Species:
Grauer’s Gorilla (CR), Eastern Chimpanzee (EN), Grey Parrot (EN), Okapi (EN), African Forest Elephant (VU)

lowland and montane forest

Timber extraction, agricultural expansion, pet and bushmeat trade, road construction, mining

Establish the Oku Wildlife Reserve and four Local Community Forestry Concessions

Local Partners:
Wildlife Conservation Society DRC and Réserve des Gorilles de Punia

Financial Need:

Total Carbon Storage (Mt CO2):


The Oku forests are 96.6 percent primary forest, with 2.6 percent secondary forest and less than 1 percent non-forest.

These are located in one of the most isolated and undisturbed forests in the DRC, and the abundance of land and wildlife is a strong factor in why the Critically Endangered Grauer’s Gorilla population decreased only 10 percent in the last 25 years compared to a global average species decline of over 80 percent. This overall species decline is why it is critical to save this forest and protect the Grauer’s Gorilla stronghold. In 2016, the partner conducted a month-long wildlife survey in the Oku forests. Nine primate species were recorded, including Grauer’s Gorillas, Eastern Chimpanzees, Owl-faced Monkeys and l'Hoest's Monkeys. These surveys also revealed high populations of Endangered Forest Elephants and ungulates including buffalos and Bongos. Survey teams identified 12 endemic bird species, including Bedford's Paradise-flycatcher, Regal Sunbird, Rwenzori Batis and Rwenzori Turaco. The teams also found numerous endemic plant species, as well as amphibians and reptiles which potentially are new to science and are in the process of being genetically identified.  

Photo: African forest elephants.


The largest threat to unprotected Oku forests is deforestation for timber and agricultural conversion, while the additional threat that comes with the building of roads and infrastructure exacerbates this deforestation.

Unregulated and increased infrastructure in this region risks opening the forest to timber extraction, facilitating the mining boom and major influxes of people pursuing financial opportunities linked to mining. Hunting is an additional threat that is also largely driven by the presence of illegal mines (such as for gold, tin, tungsten and tantalum). These mines can attract, and are often commandeered by, armed militias. Miners and militias hunt wildlife for commercial bushmeat and the pet trade, but also as food sources for themselves as there are rarely alternative protein sources available. Establishing a protected area and establishing land-use management systems will help decrease these threats.  

Photo: Deforestation in the Oku forests region. Photo by Wildlife Conservation Society DRC.


In 2006, clan leaders created an informal ‘community reserve’ to protect their forests.

There are no villages located within the proposed reserve. The 35 villages around the proposed reserve are members of 25 traditional clans each with a designated leader who acts as the overall landowner of the clan. Population density and growth are low and obtaining new land is done through an agreement with the clan leader. The local population consists of the Bantu indigenous population that has a strong tie to the forests and their conservation. Livelihood activities are predominantly subsistence agriculture and fishing, with less than 25 percent of people engaged in mineral exploitation and hunting. In 2006, clan leaders created an informal ‘community reserve’ to protect their forests. They were motivated to secure land and resource use rights as well as protect their ancestral lands. Rainforest Trust’s Congolese partner, Réserve des Gorilles de Punia, was formed to support this local initiative in collaboration with WCS-DRC. To date, and with support from WCS, the concept for a formal protected area was presented, discussed and received strong support. Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) has already been well integrated into the DRC’s 2014 conservation law through a formal well-defined process. With support from Rainforest Trust, the formal consultation process for the Oku Wildlife Reserve will follow DRC laws and ensure best practices are utilized. The consultation process will pay considerable attention to the inclusion of every stakeholder group. Given the support expressed to date, our partners do not anticipate any resistance from stakeholders for the creation of the Oku Wildlife Reserve.  

Photo: Village schoolchildren. Photo by Wildlife Conservation Society DRC.


Rainforest Trust and partners seek $1,150,697 to create the Oku Wildlife Reserve and four adjacent community-managed Local Community Forestry Concessions in the buffer zone.

The local partner organization was created as a local initiative to protect the biodiversity of the community’s lands, and it has helped bring traditional leaders together to protect their forests and great apes by developing customary rules that forbid their hunting. Our partners have already conducted multiple consultation missions to document people's interest in developing a protected area in the Oku forests. During consultation missions, they explained and discussed protected area types, processes and implications. After internal discussions, local leaders, local administrative authorities and communities have agreed to the principle of establishing the Oku Wildlife Reserve, have helped to identify the initial limits and are ready to move forward in the legal gazettement process. The legal gazettement of the Oku Wildlife Reserve and surrounding Local Community Forestry Concessions will provide formal protection to the forests and empower local communities with management rights to control and govern their resources. (Photo: An Oku Wildlife Reserve planning meeting. Photo by Wildlife Conservation Society DRC.)