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What is the worth of preserving an endangered species? The mountain gorillas of Central Africa are one of the closest relatives of humanity, and they are indeed endangered. They are few in number--only about 600 are left in the world--and they reproduce slowly. About half of them live in the Bwindi Impenetrable Park in Uganda, and the rest live in the Virunga Mountains, a chain of towering volcanoes divided between three nations: Rwanda, Uganda, and The Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire). Although officially protected, many factors make the gorillas' hold on life precarious. Their small numbers and restricted range mean that disease or natural disasters may destroy them. The gorillas are threatened even more by contact with humanity. The gorillas' homes are two small islands of pristine rainforest surrounded by some of the most densely populated and heavily farmed lands in the world. The people are among the poorest in the world, and the rate of population growth is one of the highest. The land on which the gorillas live could be converted to farmland to produce much-needed food; the wood of the rainforest could be cut down for shelter or fuel for heating and cooking.

The gorillas' homes are also tiny islands of peace surrounded by the storms of human strife. Over half-a-million people were killed during the mid-1990s in two successive civil wars driven by ethnic hatred in Rwanda and Congo. Another two million became refugees, and many still cluster on the borders of the gorillas' forest homes for over three years now.

Your group has been contacted by a coalition of concerned persons from Rwanda, Uganda, the Congo, and other nations and organizations around the world to help them find the best solution to this potentially tragic collision between humanity and nature. The coalition is particularly interested in a thorough evaluation of the social, economic, and environmental factors affecting the gorillas' survival. Your group is also charged with making recommendations concerning how to deal with the situation in a manner satisfactory to all vested interests. Should your recommendations indicate an unfavorable forecast for one or more of the stakeholders in this situation, recommend actions to address or alleviate the problem.

Image of a group of gorillas walking.  This image links to a more detailed image.
Photo: Courtesy of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund.

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