Each week, One Earth is proud to feature a Climate Hero from around the globe, working to create a world where humanity and nature can thrive together.
As Primate Expertise's founder and executive director, Dr. Augustin K. Basabose stands at the forefront of conservation efforts to protect critically endangered Grauer’s gorillas and their habitat in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Kahuzi-Biega National Park.
His innovative approach to reforestation, known as the Ape Trees™ project, involves collecting intact seeds from gorilla dung, cultivating them in tree nurseries, and distributing the seedlings to locals, providing food, income, and conservation opportunities to the community.
An early reverence for Nature
Born on DRC’s Idjwi Island on the Rwandan border, Dr. Augustin K. Basabose's journey into the world of wildlife began at a young age. His grandmother's enchanting stories and lullabies about animals fueled his passion. By the age of five, he already knew that he wanted to dedicate his life to working with and protecting Nature.
Obtaining a Ph.D. in Zoology from Kyoto University in Japan, Basabose’s dream to combine biology and conservation came true when he was introduced to a Grauer’s gorilla in Kahuzi-Biega National Park. It was then he felt he had found his life’s work.
The importance of Grauer’s gorillas
Kahuzi-Biega National Park is located in the mountainous forests of the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. It is home to extraordinary biodiversity, making it one of Africa's most ecologically diverse areas.
Grauer’s gorillas (Gorilla beringei graueri), or eastern lowland gorillas, are endemic to this region and play an important role as seed dispersers in the ecosystem. Without these large-scale grazers, the natural balance of vegetation growth and the entire food chain would be disrupted. Yet, this keystone species is protected only by the park’s boundaries.
Battling threats to biodiversity
Due to unsustainable land-use practices, such as commercial and slash-and-burn farming methods, hunting, charcoal production, and artisanal mining, substantial pressure has been put on the area’s natural resources. This has resulted in massive forest cover loss, habitat degradation, and declining wildlife.
In the past 20 years, Grauer’s gorillas have suffered a 58% population decline.
Witnessing the devastating impact in the region, Dr. Basabose felt a profound responsibility to act. In response, he founded Primate Expertise, an organization dedicated to protecting Kahuzi-Biega National Park and all its inhabitants.
Engaging the community in conservation
Recognizing the importance of involving the local community, Primate Expertise joined forces with Wild Earth Allies to extend their impact beyond park boundaries. Together, they initiated forest habitat restoration and livelihood programs.
These programs were aimed at employing locals to help with conservation efforts. Initially, the organizations launched projects to identify and dismantle illegal traps and use cameras to record wildlife activities. Over 20 months, they identified 40 animal species, showcasing the park's rich tapestry of life.
A unique reforestation approach
However, Dr. Basabose wanted to take community-led conservation even further to where it could create natural habitats, a sustainable economy, and even a food source. His innovative approach became aptly known as the Ape Trees project.
This initiative involves collecting unbroken seeds from gorilla dung, germinating them in tree nurseries, and distributing seedlings to the community. Seedlings from the Ape Trees project are helping reforest the region while also serving as a sustainable food supply and income source for the community.
A positive impact felt across the ecosystem
Over 61,000 seedlings from seven plant species have been grown, fostering a complete environmental rehabilitation. In the upland sector of Kahuzi-Biega National Park, the Grauer's gorilla population has experienced a significant resurgence, with 220 gorillas counted compared to 130 a decade ago.
The park's management has also doubled its efforts to secure the area from mining activities, poachers, and fighting armed groups. Dr. Basabose remains steadfast in his commitment to alleviating poverty in the surrounding park community while tirelessly promoting reforestation.
A multifaceted climate solution
Dr. Augustin K. Basabose's work transcends traditional conservation efforts; it emerges as a powerful, multifaceted climate solution. The Ape Trees initiative demonstrates that sustainable, community-engaged reforestation can provide food security and income and protect endangered species.
Grauer’s gorillas, the surrounding community, and ultimately, the world at large feel the ripple effect of Dr. Basabose’s tree-planting efforts, showcasing the impact one individual can make on our planet.Explore More Climate Heroes