EarthTalk: Has the recent violence in the Democratic
Republic of Congo threatened the populations of lowland
gorillas? How many are left?
-- Glenn Hammond, San Francisco, CA
than 5,000 Eastern Lowland Gorillas are estimated
to remain in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC),
formerly known as Zaire (they numbered 17,000 in 1995).
Habitat loss, hunting, and war and violence are combining
to push them over the edge. Pictured: a female Eastern
Lowland Gorilla in the Antwerp Zoo, Belgium.
© Frank Wouters, courtesy Flickr
short answer is yes, dramatically. Not to be confused with
Western Lowland Gorillas, which are thriving in significant
numbers in neighboring Congo (a recent census counted 125,000),
today fewer than 5,000 Eastern Lowland Gorillas are estimated
to remain in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), formerly
known as Zaire. Some 17,000 inhabited the region as recently
as 1994, but today habitat loss, hunting, and war and violence
are combining to push them over the edge.
the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, an influx of refugees, along
with bloodthirsty militias, moved across the border into
the neighboring DRC. These militias set up training grounds
in the very forests the gorillas call home, making conservation
work impractical to say the least. Park rangers, game wardens
and wildlife researchers either fled their wooded beats
or were removed at gunpoint.
the wake of this, civilian populations in the affected areas
still had to make ends meet somehow. So hunting for so-called
“bushmeat,” and cutting down the forest for
firewood, charcoal and space for agricultural plots became
the means for day-to-day survival, and continue to this
day. Some 91 percent of the human population in the region
practice subsistence agriculture. This means that large
swaths of gorilla habitat throughout the region have been
converted to farms. At the same time, 96 percent of the
locals rely on firewood as their main supply of energy for
warmth and cooking. “Forested parks are for many of
them the last remaining source of fuel,” reports the
Year of the Gorilla website.
the violence has been so persistent and the research areas
so vulnerable, scientists don’t really know how badly
Eastern Lowland Gorilla populations have been affected.
The Year of the Gorilla Project, in conjunction with the
Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF), the Wildlife Conservation
Society (WCS) and other groups, is working to reinstate
regular monitoring and effective surveillance of the remaining
Eastern Lowland Gorilla population throughout Kahuzi-Biega
National Park, where armed factions have proliferated.
last reliable data on population size and distribution were
recorded in 1995, and it is suspected that the population
has shrunk dramatically since,” reports the Year of
the Gorilla website. “New, precise information will
be one outcome of this project, enabling intelligent and
effective approaches to the conservation of this rare species.”
environmentalists and wildlife fans the world over are certainly
hoping for the best, and will no doubt continue to watch
what happens as the fate of some of our closest relatives
on the planet hangs in the balance.
the Gorilla; WWF;
Institute for the Conservation of Nature.
EarthTalk: I know of solar power systems that
people can put on their roofs to generate electricity or
heat water. Are there systems that serve whole neighborhoods?
-- Lee Helscel, via email
Solar City installation in Oakland, CA
© Solar City
is a good strategy when looking to get the best price on
a given product or service. Solar power is no exception,
and dozens of neighborhood-wide installations in the U.S.
and Canada have created a new model whereby going solar
can actually start to pencil out for individual homeowners.
One of the first
neighborhood-wide solar installations in the world was at
the master-planned community of Drake Landing in the town
of Okotoks in Alberta, Canada. The entire community, now
with more than 50 homes built and occupied, is heated by
a neighborhood-wide “borehole thermal energy”
system designed to store abundant solar energy underground
during the summer and distribute it to each home as needed
for space heating throughout the winter. The system, which
launched in June 2007, now fulfills some 90 percent of each
home’s space heating needs, with any slack taken up
by fossil fuels.
While some planned
communities like Drake Landing incorporated neighborhood
solar power from the get-go, others decided it made sense
after they were first built. One example is the deal that
homeowners in Marin County, California can get in on, thanks
to the hard work of the nonprofit GoSolarMarin. The group
negotiated discounted group rates with several photovoltaic
solar panel providers, and eventually signed on with SolarCity,
a Silicon Valley based solar provider that operates some
30 different “community solar programs” across
California, Arizona and Oregon.
was able to negotiate a rate some 25 percent lower than
what a typical solar installation would cost for Marin County
residents willing to participate. And best of all, homeowners
can lease from SolarCity instead of having to pay tens of
thousands of dollars out of pocket to buy equipment that
may become obsolete in a few years. SolarCity monitors all
clients’ installations online to ensure that they
are running at peak performance, and also makes house calls
for maintenance as needed.
is no doubt a leader in residential solar power, the concept
is spreading. Neighborhood Solar, for instance, is a Colorado-based
nonprofit formed to accelerate the adoption of residential
solar power in the Denver Metro area. The group organizes
homeowners into collective solar purchasing groups, and
negotiates significant discounts accordingly. “We
act as an independent buyer’s agent,” the group
reports on its website, “with the goal of providing
the best value to residential solar purchasers while helping
installers put up more solar at reduced overhead costs.”
groups like GoSolarMarin and Neighborhood Solar are springing
up all over the country, and dozens of solar companies have
now adopted the community installation model. Community
leaders interested in neighborhood-scope solar programs
should shop around for the best prices and service guarantees
before signing with any one solar provider. There’s
a lot individuals can do to be part of clean energy solutions;
there’s even more a group working in concert can accomplish,
and community-based solar is but one bright and shining
Landing Solar Community; GoSolarMarin;
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