Illegal charcoal production in the Congo is threatening mountain gorilla habitat, but an elegant solution in the form of hand-operated biomass briquette presses may help gorilla populations rebound.
According to WWF, 400-600 gorillas are killed each year in the northern Democratic Republic of Congo. And without adequate cover, the illegal poaching of mountain gorillas is also intensifying in Virunga National Park, where somewhere between one-quarter and one-half of the world's 700 remaining mountain gorillas live. But the commercial production and trade of charcoal, or makala, in Virunga is currently destroying critical habitat of the endangered mountain gorillas.
Making matters worse, because the soldiers that have been hired to work in the park have reportedly not received paychecks in years, some are turning to the charcoal trade and other illegal activities to support themselves and their families. The local trade in charcoal is estimated to bring in at least $25 million every year — which buys a lot of weaponry for rebels such as the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR).
Without a suitable--and affordable--alternative to charcoal, mountain gorilla habitat will continue to shrink. That's where the simple solution of biomass briquettes made in the Congo, and in places as far away as Boulder, Colorado, could be the saving grace for the people and mountain gorillas of the Congo.
Dave Burdick at Big Green Boulder takes a closer look at the story of a guy in Colorado who is making biomass briquettes he hopes will replace the production of charcoal in the Congo: (Video by Boulder Daily Camera photographer Marty Caivano)
But these presses are not just operating in far away Colorado. More than 600 briquette presses now operate on the ground, making it the largest alternative fuel program in Congo. Each press is run by a six-person “microenterprise,” translating into 3,600 new fair-wage jobs for Congolese residents. By November, the goal is to hit 1,000 presses. Watch this video of Anatole Bandu explains the production of briquettes as an alternative to charcoal to reduce the destruction of trees in Virunga National Park:
Learn more about the mountain gorillas of Virunga National Park and how you can help at www.gorillacd.org