Gorillas, Not Grenades

Wildlife Conservation Society: Conservation Plays Diplomatic Role in War-Torn Regions
WCS operates conservation programs in Afghanistan, South Sudan, and Democratic Republic of Congo

BRUSSELS (November 22, 2011) – In conflict and post-conflict areas, conservation can play a key role in diplomacy by increasing stability and providing economic opportunities, according to a team of conservationists hosted by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) who spoke at an event in European Parliament today.

Citing examples from Afghanistan, South Sudan, and Democratic Republic of Congo, the conservationists said that biodiversity conservation can contribute to the mission of stabilization in war-torn areas. In fact, conservation projects in conflict zones are used to develop civil society and sustainable economic opportunities.

The speakers included John Calvelli, WCS Executive Vice President for Public Affairs; Habiba Sarabi, Governor of Bamyan Province, Afghanistan; Peter Zahler of WCS’s Asia Program; Paul Elkan of WCS’s South Sudan Program; and Deo Kujirakwinja, WCS Albertine Rift Coordinator, Democratic Republic of Congo.

“At first it might seem preposterous to worry about wildlife when bullets are flying,” said John Calvelli. “The fact is that conservation of natural resources – including wildlife – is the foundation of stable societies. Protecting and conserving these natural resources is the key to any nation-building process.”

WCS is the only international conservation NGO in Afghanistan and has worked there since 2006. It helped create the nation’s first national park and list of protected species, draft eight different environmental laws and regulations, and trained thousands of Afghans – from high-level ministerial staff to local community members – in sustainable natural resource management practices. Recent WCS wildlife surveys have turned up populations of snow leopards, Asiatic black bears, Marco Polo sheep, and rare bird species. Governor Habiba Sarabi of Afghanistan’s Bamyan Province discussed developing tourism in the region, which includes the nation’s first national park – Band-e-Amir, created in 2009.

In South Sudan, the world’s newest nation, WCS surveys conducted in partnership with the government have found that mammal migrations rivaling those of the Serengeti survived decades of war, and vast tracts of savannas and wetlands remain largely intact. South Sudan boasts some of the most spectacular and important wildlife populations in Africa and supports the world's second-largest terrestrial wildlife migration of some 1.3 million white-eared kob, tiang antelope, and Mongalla gazelle. As the only international conservation organization working in South Sudan, WCS has collaborated with its government and local stakeholders to establish a foundation for natural-resource management, land-use planning, and conservation to reduce conflict and stoke economic development.

Despite decades of unrest, WCS maintains a full-time presence in Democratic Republic of Congo and works in several important landscapes home to gorillas, elephants, okapi and other spectacular wildlife. As the region begins to recover from years of conflict, pressures to exploit the country’s rich natural resources are increasing. WCS works with a variety of in-country partners to safeguard the region’s vast wildlife and wild places from unsustainable development.

The Wildlife Conservation Society operates field conservation projects in 60 countries around the world and in all the world’s oceans. WCS today opened a policy office in Brussels to boost the organization’s policy impact in Europe, specifically among bodies such as the European Commission, the European Parliament, and within European bilateral aid and conservation agencies.


Contact:
Barbara Helfferich (Brussels) – 32-496-58-38-29; bhelfferich@wcs.org
Stephen Sautner (U.S.) – 1-718-220-3682; ssautner@wcs.org
John Delaney (U.S.) – 1-718-220-3275; jdelaney@wcs.org

The Wildlife Conservation Society saves wildlife and wild places worldwide. We do so through science, global conservation, education and the management of the world's largest system of urban wildlife parks, led by the flagship Bronx Zoo. Together these activities change attitudes toward nature and help people imagine wildlife and humans living in harmony. WCS is committed to this mission because it is essential to the integrity of life on Earth. Visit: www.wcs.org 

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