LIANE HANSEN, host:
Mountain gorillas are one of the most endangered species in the world. And perhaps nowhere are they more endangered than in the war-ravaged eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
In November, Weekend Edition reported that the country's government and the rebels had agreed to let park rangers and conservationists back into the Virunga National Park where many of the gorillas live. The rangers had been gone for a year, and scientists feared the worst, but they were in for a surprise.
Richard Carroll of the World Wildlife Fund is here, and Mr. Carroll, you actually found the gorilla population had increased?
Dr. RICHARD CARROLL (Managing Director, World Wildlife Fund's Congo Basin Program): Yes, this is a very, very good news story. After 16 months of being excluded from the park, to come back in and find that the gorilla population is not only intact but has increased by nine members.
With all the chaos, you would expect much more devastation in this population in this part of the world that's been wrought with conflict and humanitarian and ecological problems. So, we're thrilled.
HANSEN: So, it increased by nine. What would the total population be?
Dr. CARROLL: Well, the population in the Virungas is 380, in the tri-national area. That includes the Virunga National Park in Democratic Congo, the Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda and Mgahinga National Park in Uganda.
HANSEN: To what do you attribute this good news?
Dr. CARROLL: The good news, I believe, with the gorillas - gorillas have become iconic through decades of war and conflict and rebel groups going back and forth and the genocide in Rwanda and all the issues that have plagued this fantastic area of the world. ..TEXT: Nobody has harmed the gorillas, not the local people or the rebel groups. They know that the gorillas are an economic resource with gorilla tourism, it's one of the highest foreign income earners for these countries. And so, they want to maintain that resource. But also, it's a source of pride.
Dr. CARROLL: This is the only place where mountain gorillas exist in the world.
HANSEN: Does the economic value still exist given the fact that there really isn't a lot of tourism there because of the fighting? And if there were no tourists coming into the country, what might that mean for the gorillas?
Dr. CARROLL: Mm hmm(ph). Well, I believe that tourism will restart in the Congo once there is stability. Rwanda, a few years ago, was in such a state of affairs that who would have thought that you would go to Rwanda to see gorillas. The gorilla tourism in Rwanda is thriving. It's contributing to the economy and to the protection of the gorillas.
HANSEN: Richard Carroll is managing director of the World Wildlife Fund's Congo Basin Program. Thank you for coming in.
Dr. CARROLL: Thank you very much for having me.
HANSEN: This is NPR News.
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