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Western Lowland Gorillas - A Success for the Congo Basin Forest Partnership

Paula J. Dobriansky, Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs
Remarks to Wildlife Conservation Society Event
Washington, DC
September 15, 2008

Thank you, John, for that generous introduction and thanks to the dedicated Wildlife Conservation Society for your tireless efforts to preserve and protect wildlife around the globe while promoting awareness of the need to also conserve wild lands. I am glad to see WCS President Steve Sanderson here today also. Your leadership on these issues has been extraordinary. We have been very pleased to partner with you. I’d also like to recognize Republic of Congo’s Ambassador Mombouli.

From your parks in the United States – most famously including the Bronx Zoo – to your field projects on nearly every continent, you are strengthening the connections between humans and wildlife every day because you rightly believe it to be essential to the integrity of life on earth.

Looking around this room, from Ambassador Mombouli to Congresswoman Nita Lowey and Congressional staff, I can see broad appreciation. Among our friends in the animal kingdom, the gratitude is, without doubt, immeasurable.

What is measurable, though, is the remarkable resurgence of western lowland gorillas in the Congo which your recent census indicates to be a deeply encouraging trend. We were all pleased to learn that, from a population believed to have been as low as 50,000 in past years, WCS’ groundbreaking survey has discovered the numbers of these gentle giants to have rebounded to an estimated 125,000. As far as markers of success go, this is astounding and noteworthy.

Clearly, this was no easy assignment. But environmental challenges are nothing new to the WCS—or wildlife defenders around the globe, for the matter. The benefit we derive from this census, though, is well worth their effort. For the first time in recent memory, we are hearing good news about an endangered species. What that tells us is that conservation strategies are vital, and they are working.

This discovery is a success for the Government of the Republic of Congo. We congratulate the Congolese Government on their conservation efforts to date. And, this discovery is an achievement for all of the public and private partners in the Congo Basin Forest Partnership.

I was with former Secretary of State Colin Powell when he launched this partnership with the countries of the Congo Basin, South Africa and more than 30 other government, international organization and non-governmental organization partners in 2002 at the World Summit on Sustainable Development. The United States, Powell said at the time, is “in it for the long run.”

What that has meant, in the ensuing years, is a series of significant commitments to sustainable forest management among countries, non-governmental organizations and the private sector.

Through the U.S. Agency for International Development and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the United States has contributed close to $100 million in support of projects under this partnership. Importantly, these contributions have led the way for those from other governments and international funds. We have also benefited from strong support from the U.S. Forest Service.

And six years later, we are still committed to the ongoing success of the Congo Basin Forest Partnership. In fact, Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans, Environment, and Science Claudia McMurray was just in Gabon last week in support of the partnership’s efforts.

The success of the partnership, evident in this resurgence of the lowland gorillas, is very likely to attract not only interest, but investment. The benefits of this successful partnership are multifold:

Environmentally—sustainable forest practices in the Congo Basin lead to the conservation of the world’s second largest tropical forest, with a positive impact on biodiversity and climate change;

Economically—sound forest management leads to the expansion of small-to-medium sized enterprise development, more jobs, improved food security prospects and strengthened rule of law with fewer opportunities for corrupt practices; and

Socially—tensions between countries in the Congo basin have led to searing conflicts leaving displaced populations and shattered human lives. Through this cooperative, multilateral partnership there has come a new incentive not only for preserving the forest, but also resolving many of the disputes that resulted from mis-use of forest resources.

All told, U.S. support for this still-young partnership is beginning to show itself, as former Secretary Powell predicted at the time of its creation, to be “money well-spent.” Still, there is much work to be done.

While the lowland gorillas are growing in numbers, other primates in Central Africa remain at risk from poaching, disease and the loss of habitat.

The positive results we have seen in the Congo are not a cause for complacency. Instead, they demonstrate the value and benefit that is likely to follow from continued support of what has been an experience of proliferating successes.

Working together with our friends in the Republic of Congo, we improve not only the welfare of the western lowland gorillas, but also our own capacities for fruitfully effecting positive change on multiple levels.

Thank you all for your strong commitment. I look forward to continued success stories from the Wildlife Conservation Society as you educate all of us on the importance of our natural heritage.

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