Plans finalised for satellites to help safeguard gorilla habitats

Humans have proved to be bad neighbours to the beleaguered mountain gorilla, of whom only a few hundred are thought to remain alive. The gorillas dwell in the high rainforests of Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, concentrated in a set of national parks across all three countries. But deforestation and illegal poaching render these habitats - and the gorillas' survival - under threat.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) recognises these parks as World Heritage Sites. However, although they are protected, years of regional unrest and the subsequent arrival of refugees are encroaching on these sites, with people clearing forest-land for agriculture or fuel.

A joint ESA/UNESCO project called BeGO for Build Environment for Gorilla commenced last April with the intention of providing satellite imagery and products of these sprawling and often inaccessible habitats to conservation groups and local authorities working to protect them.

A three-day BeGO workshop took place last week at the headquarters of UNESCO in Paris.

Gathered there were gorilla conservation experts from the International Gorilla Conservation Programme, the Wildlife Conservation Society and the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International as well as the Institut Congolais de Conservation de la Nature.

Also present were representatives from the United Nations Great Ape Survival Project (GRASP) and authorities from the Virunga National Park in the Congo, bordering Rwanda and Uganda.

They met with representatives of ESA and UNESCO as well as technicians from Synoptics, the Dutch-based company tasked with delivering BeGO data.

The discussions covered several operational aspects of the project such as consolidating the user requirements including settling the type of geometrical projection to which all satellite-based products have to be standardised and organising the ground data collect

Contact: Diego Fernandez
European Space Agency

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