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Ten millionth tree planted in Congo's gorilla habitat

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WWF - November 26, 2007

Congo gorilla Gland, Switzerland/Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo - WWF and Congolese authorities are celebrating the ten millionth tree planted around Virunga National Park in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), a crucial habitat for the endangered mountain gorilla.

The WWF tree-planting project, launched in 1987 ? and continuously operated despite recurrent armed conflicts in the region ? aims to reduce the shortage of firewood for neighbouring communities. Strong demand has led to illegal wood harvesting and charcoal production within the park, a major threat for the protected area.

An aerial survey, funded by UNESCO and conducted this week by WWF and the Frankfurt Zoological Society, showed that over half of the montane forest surrounding the Nyiragongo volcano north of Goma ? the main town of the region ? is being used for illegal charcoal production. The team counted over 30 active ovens within the national park during a one-hour flight over the forest.

According to a WWF study, over 500,000 cubic metres of firewood are used by the town of Goma alone, where 97% of households have no access to electricity and rely heavily on charcoal or firewood for cooking.

"The illegal production of charcoal from Virunga National Park leads to large-scale deforestation and directly threatens the habitat of key species such as mountain gorillas," said Alexandre Wathaut, Provincial Director of ICCN, the National Park Agency in DRC. "It also threatens the economic potential of the park."

In time of peace, Virunga National Park is the DRC's most visited place by tourists, who come to see the endangered mountain gorilla in its natural habitat.

However, the recent clashes between rebels and the regular army in the area are keeping people away. Over 300,000 people have fled the fighting, setting up makeshift camps on the edge of the park. Over the past two months, WWF provided over US$150,000 for purchasing wood to supply the camps near Goma.

On average, these camps need a daily supply of 50 metric tons of wood. The wood comes from the plantations established through the WWF project.

"Planting ten million trees is no mean achievement when one considers the very difficult environment in which we operate in this area," said Marc Languy, WWF Programme Leader in the Great Lakes Region.

"Today's celebration is symbolic of the Congolese people's determination to never give up hope even during times of armed conflict that surrounds them."

WWF also announced the launch of a new forestry project, jointly funded by the European Union, which will help individuals and communities plant over 2,000 hectares in North Kivu during the next five years.

For further information:
Marc Languy, WWF Eastern Africa Regional Programme Office
+254 20 387 26 30 / mlanguy@wwfearpo.org

Kimunya Mugo, WWF Eastern Africa Regional Programme Office
+254 20 387 26 30 / kmugo@wwfearpo.org

END NOTES:

? The ten millionth tree was planted today in Goma by the governor and the environment minister of North Kivu at a ceremony attended by traditional chiefs and representative of local communities.

? Funded by WWF, the European Union and other donors, the project works with individuals, local communities and the state to provide an alternative source of firewood that is sustainable and compatible with agriculture, through different types of plantations made of various species of trees.

? The project has tested and planted over 60 species of indigenous and exotic species of trees. These are used for agroforestry or for plantations as well as greenbelts around the park. The plantations are harvested by communities and individuals for their own use or for sale.

? The project also provides tangible economic benefits to local communities. One single hectare of a well-managed small scale plantation can produce up to 30 cubic metres of wood a year, which can be sold for over ?700 (over US$1,000), a very significant sum for people in North Kivu.

? The population of the city of Goma has been multiplied by tec since the inception of the project in 1987. This is largely due to population growth but also armed conflicts that forced thousand of people away from rural area towards Goma.

? Virunga National Park, created in 1925 as Africa's first national park, extends over an area of 8,000km2. It is located in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo, bordering Rwanda's Volcano National Park to the south and Uganda's Mgahinga National Park. One of the richest parks in Africa in terms of biodiversity, it is characterized by largely unspoiled tropical montane forests, and is home to some of the remaining populations of endangered mountain gorillas. Virunga National Park is now a World Heritage Site. But encroachment for farming and settlement, as well as by warring rebel factions, is leading to uncontrolled exploitation of the area.

? Funds raised by WWF in a recent online appeal has been used to pay for the wood bought from villagers and communities to feed the camps.


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