Applying a multi-faceted approach to achieve long-term sustainable conservation goals in a programme for the reintroduction of Critically Endangered western lowland gorillas to a protected area within the Republic of Congo

The Aspinall Foundation
Published: 01 November 2021
Last edited: 01 November 2021
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The Gorilla Protection Project began in 1987 with the aim of reintroducing Critically Endangered western lowland gorillas to an area they had been hunted to extinction. Young gorillas, orphaned by the illegal bush meat trade, receive care and rehabilitation at the project before release back to the wild. Also captive-bred gorillas are repatriated to Congo where, after a period of adjustment, they too are released into the reserve. The protection afforded to the area also allows a wider range of flora and fauna to benefit, improving the biodiversity and health of the eco-system. Yet the anthropogenic pressures remain. To achieve sustainable conservation results the project seeks to achieve a holistic solution by adopting a multi-faceted approach to a complex problem. This involves conservation initiatives that include local community development in the villages surrounding the reserve alongside enforcement and protection against unauthorised activities for the wildlife and habitat of the protected area.


West and Central Africa
Scale of implementation
Forest ecosystems
Freshwater ecosystems
Grassland ecosystems
Pool, lake, pond
River, stream
Tropical deciduous forest
Tropical grassland, savanna, shrubland
Access and benefit sharing
Biodiversity mainstreaming
Ecosystem services
Erosion prevention
Fire management
Genetic diversity
Habitat fragmentation and degradation
Land management
Local actors
Poaching and environmental crime
Protected and conserved areas management planning
Science and research
Species management
Sustainable livelihoods
Terrestrial spatial planning
Traditional knowledge
Species Conservation and One Health Interventions
Genetic Conservation
Species Status Assessment
Species Monitoring and Research
Species Conservation Translocations
Species Conservation Planning
Risk communication, community engagement and behaviour change
Risk assessment
Erratic rainfall
Land and Forest degradation
Loss of Biodiversity
Conflicting uses / cumulative impacts
Ecosystem loss
Unsustainable harvesting incl. Overfishing
Inefficient management of financial resources
Lack of access to long-term funding
Lack of alternative income opportunities
Physical resource extraction
Lack of public and decision maker’s awareness
Poor monitoring and enforcement
Lack of food security
Unemployment / poverty
Sustainable development goals
SDG 1 – No poverty
SDG 2 – Zero hunger
SDG 5 – Gender equality
SDG 12 – Responsible consumption and production
SDG 15 – Life on land
SDG 17 – Partnerships for the goals
Aichi targets
Target 1: Awareness of biodiversity increased
Target 4: Sustainable production and consumption
Target 5: Habitat loss halved or reduced
Target 6: Sustainable management of aquatic living resources
Target 7: Sustainable agriculture, aquaculture and forestry
Target 8: Pollution reduced
Target 11: Protected and conserved areas
Target 12: Reducing risk of extinction
Target 14: Ecosystem services
Target 15: Ecosystem restoration and resilience
Target 18: Traditional knowledge
Sendai Framework
Target 2: Reduce the number of affected people globally by 2030
(I)NDC Submission


Lésio-Louna Reserve, Batéke Plateau, Republic of Congo.


The release of rehabilitated or captive-bred animals back to the wild requires a multi-year commitment with an ability to adapt processes and procedures where necessary.

Civil wars and militia conflicts have plagued the Republic of Congo for many years, and even during periods of relative stability projects must be managed with a degree of sensitivity in this regard.

The people living in the villages surrounding the reserve are trapped in a subsistence lifestyle by poverty and the lack of opportunities in rural areas. This in turn leads to pressure on wildlife from practices such as poaching, fishing, and habitat loss/degradation. There is also an historical lack of economic and social empowerment, particularly affecting the younger generation and women. The resulting cycle of over-exploitation of natural resources can only be broken by tackling the complexities of the problem with multiple solutions requiring a cohesive and sustained programme of conservation and community development.


The main beneficiaries of the project are the local communities living in the 23 villages along the park boundaries (population in excess of 17,000) and, in a broader context, the government of the Republic of Congo.

How do the building blocks interact?

The interaction of the building blocks follows a natural progression from early preparation and planning through to implementation and the future. Certain elements run throughout the building blocks, including collaboration, and good communication. Each block is not necessarily dependent on the others, but together they form a far more cohesive approach to addressing the complex situations that face most conservation projects. Following a logical pathway that brings together multiple aspects, particularly in areas involving human/wildlife conflict to any degree, provides a far better opportunity to achieve sustainable solutions.


The project's approach has led to a natural expansion of its scope. At its core there remains the initial focus of the reintroduction and protection of the western lowland gorilla population, but its impact has expanded beyond a single species. The health of the eco-system as a whole is integral to the project, and the complex inter-relationships between humans, wildlife and habitat are key elements. As with many of the remaining wilderness areas, the villages surrounding Lésio-Louna Reserve are some of the poorest in the country and they are highly dependent on the natural resources around them. Environmental and social resilience is achieved by empowering the local communities to transition from subsistence to sustainable lifestyles.

Since the inception of the project there is now a self-supporting population of wild gorillas in the reserve and other species, including hippos and forest buffalo, have increased in number. Through training, raising awareness, and building new income streams that encourage a desire to protect wildlife and habitats, local communities have gained new skills and a better understanding of the importance of sustainability. In addition to contributing to a number of SDGs this continued development will ultimately enable local people to become the custodians of their environment.


The Aspinall Foundation

In November 2020, thanks to the support we received from the European Union and the Organisation of African, Caribbean and Pacific States through the BIOPAMA Programme, we were able to significantly enhance our work in the Lésio-Louna Reserve. The aim was to improve the protection & management of the reserve through increased monitoring against illegal activities combined with the development of an existing eco-tourism product. It is an example of combining multiple approaches to achieve a single result, that being to protect the habitat and wildlife of the Lésio-Louna Reserve whilst remaining sensitive to the needs of local people. The purchase of a 4 x 4 vehicle and additional camera traps has allowed our team to organise regular patrols, and monitor activity, across a much wider area of the reserve than would be possible on foot. Combined with the use of SMART technology we are now gaining a better understanding of unauthorised activities that are occurring in the remote areas of the reserve and have been able to take action by destroying hunting camps, and confiscating items such as rafts/canoes, and hunting rifles. The presence of the patrols is also beginning to act as a deterrent through the awareness raising activities of our team. Alongside this strengthening of the rules and regulations we have also upgraded elements of an eco-tourism product through the installation of a new solar energy system and by increasing the capacity to offer river excursions. The creation of the eco-tourism product is an opportunity to involve local people through direct employment. As it becomes established and visitor numbers increase it also provides an income stream for residents of all 23 villages surrounding the reserve as a proportion of the revenue from eco-tourism is paid to the village associations for the benefit of the local people.

Contributed by

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Sandra Rowland The Aspinall Foundation

Other contributors

Berthin Mbangui - Project Manager
The Aspinall Foundation - Congo
Amos Courage - Director of Overseas Projects
The Aspinall Foundation