Kahuzi-Biega National Park in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is renowned for its biodiversity, including Grauer’s gorilla — an endemic subspecies — and around 350 bird species. The area is also home to the Batwa people, who are highly dependent on its forests for their livelihoods and cultural traditions. But forests in this region are embattled by long-running civil strife, poverty, and market demand for materials from minerals to charcoal. Efforts to protect these forests are challenged by conservation’s mixed record: Kahuzi-Biega’s expansion in the 1970s forced the displacement of some 13,000 local people, turning them into conservation refugees and sowing distrust in conservation initiatives, especially those led by “outsiders”, whether the central government or foreign NGOs. Mining companies and other extractive industries further complicate the situation by exacerbating pressure on community forests. Grauer’s gorilla troop in Kahuzi-Biega National Park. Photo credit: Strong Roots Congo. One of the local organizations leading efforts to overcome these challenges is Strong Roots Congo, which was co-founded by Dominique Bikaba in 2009. Strong Roots Congo puts the needs of local people at the center of its strategy to protect endangered forests and wildlife in eastern DRC. These efforts include helping local communities and Indigenous peoples secure collective land tenure, restoring native vegetation to create a habitat corridor, and supporting education and the strengthening of sustainable livelihoods at the village level. “Strong Roots’ approach to conservation is bottom-up, collaborative, and inclusive,” Bikaba told Mongabay in a recent interview. “We learned long ago that conservation…This article was originally published on Mongabay Läs mer

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