In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where the United Nations has been supporting efforts to end armed violence, protect civilians and spur economic investment and political stability, the Organization is also fighting an environmental battle to save great apes, the region's iconic local totem and a key link in its rich biodiversity.
"In years past, the fear was always that armed conflict would damage great apes and wipe out wildlife," said Douglas Cress, Programme Coordinator at the Great Apes Survival Partnership (GRASP), led by the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP) and the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
Mr. Cress stressed the mixed blessing of the DRC's rich endowment of resources. "In terms of natural resources, it is one of the most potentially lucrative regions in all of Africa," he told the UN News Centre from Nairobi, Kenya, where he is based. DRC has rich reserves of timber, gold, tantalum - used in cell phones and computers, and now potentially also oil and other resources.
However, the fight for possession of these resources, as well as land and political power, is a major cause of conflict with rebels such as, most recently, the March 23rd Movement (M23) , the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) and other armed groups that have emerged from the area or entered from neighbouring countries.
That conflict, in turn, endangers the natural environment. "All natural resources suffer tremendously during conflict. But it's not always a certainty that your wildlife would be exploited to death, often it's just exploited," Mr. Cress added.
It is to stave off extreme degradation of the DRC's precious resources - so important for the future of the country and for the Earth - that the UN and its partners are working with international law enforcement, Governments and local communities to save magnificent wildlife and their habitat.
The forests of the DRC represent half of the total area of tropical rainforest in Africa, providing shelter for great apes, such as the mountain gorilla and the bonobo, as well as the okapi and elephant, among other mammals and countless species of magnificent birds and reptiles.
"You fly over the area and it's just green for three hours," Mr. Cress said. More....