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MEA Bulletin - Guest Article No. 103b - Monday, 1 November 2010
Agreement on the Conservation of Gorillas and their Habitats
By Balraj Sidhu1
Full Article

Gorillas, the largest of all great apes, have been a source of inspiration and fascination for humans. This largest primate, unfortunately, as a whole remains endangered and is under renewed threat. The saving of gorilla populations and their habitats has emerged as one of the epicentres of all conservation and restoration efforts. The 1979 (Bonn) Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) is an intergovernmental treaty that allows member States to conclude specialized species ‘agreements’. In circumstances where the concerned species is in an unfavourable conservation status (the species may be listed in Appendix I or Appendix II of the Convention), the Range States are required to conclude agreements to  protect these species, with a view to restoring the migratory species concerned to a favourable conservation status or maintain such a status.

In 2006, the CMS requested the Royal Belgian Institute for Natural Sciences, in partnership with the Great Apes Survival Partnership (GRASP) as well as in consultation with the gorilla range States and GRASP members, to develop a gorilla conservation agreement to be implemented via a regional, trans-border Action Plan. The Agreement on the Conservation of Gorillas and their Habitats (hereinafter called as Gorilla Agreement) was finalized in the year 2007. The main objective of the Agreement is to help conserve and restore Gorilla populations and their habitats to a favourable conservation status, primarily by establishing or reinforcing coordinated trans-border activities or projects.     

The general conservation measures to be adopted by the Parties under the Agreement  include: identifying sites and habitats of gorillas for stricter protection, management and rehabilitation and restoration of sites; bringing co-ordination to end poaching; supporting capacity building measures; preventing human-gorilla conflicts; harmonizing and enforcing national policies and legislative measures for the conservation of gorillas and their habitats; developing training programmes; exchanging information and results from research, monitoring, conservation and education programmes; and encouraging awareness-raising about the importance of protecting gorillas.

Alike most of the other multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs), the Meeting of Parties (MOP) is the supreme decision making body of this agreement. Each Party is to designate an Authority to implement this Agreement as well as prepare a report on its implementation of the Agreement with particular reference to the conservation measures it has undertaken. The agreement lays down an Action Plan that Parties shall undertake to implement conservation measures, namely, conservation of all species and sub-species of gorillas; habitat conservation; management of human activities; research and monitoring; education and information; implementation and enforcement of gorilla conservation policies; reduction of impact of disease; contribution to the sustainable development of local communities; and reduction of human-gorilla conflict.

For generating greater publicity on the plight of gorilla United Nations (UN), declared 2009 as the Year of Gorillas (YoG). It was a joint initiative of UNEP-CMS, UNEP/UNESCO, Great Ape Survival Partnership (GRASP) and the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA). During the YoG, concerted efforts were made to encourage strategic and practical approaches to gorilla conservation; create awareness among people of ecosystem services (including carbon sequestration and storage) and intrinsic value of flora and fauna; provide income opportunities as an alternative to poaching, logging and mining through capacity building such as training of forest workers; and educate the wider public on gorillas and inculcate cultural attitudes conducive to the conservation of gorillas.

The Gorilla Agreement encourages as well as calls for the implementation of general conservation measures and an Action Plan that is subject to regular monitoring. The Gorilla Agreement and the projects that will result from its Action Plan could positively contribute to promoting the long term survival of gorillas, their forest habitat and dependent human populations. It appears that it will help States in clubbing conservation and robust economic development. But there appears serious flaw in the implementation of the agreement as far as it depends on ‘voluntary contributions’ by the parties. Parties can always put their hands up on the account of paucity of funds.

The objectives laid down have an intrinsic inspirational value and could encourage all relevant stakeholders to take up this noble cause in earnest. It seems each of the Gorilla range States will need to put into place their own policy and legal steps to give effect to the letter and spirit of the Gorilla Agreement as well as promotional effect of 2009 as Year of the Gorilla.
1Doctoral Scholar, Centre for International Legal studies, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India; e-mail:
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