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Space technology to protect mountain gorillas

Wednesday, 6 April 2005
access_time 1 min read

Accurate and detailed maps of inaccessible zones in Central Africa that will allow authorities to monitor the habitat of the region's threatened mountain gorillas, have been produced for the first time by the European Space Agency (ESA) and UNESCO. The results of this joint project, known as BEGo (Build Environment for Gorillas), will be presented at a meeting on April 7 at ESA headquarters in Paris. The project is part of the Open Initiative agreement between UNESCO and ESA, signed on June 18, 2003 to encourage the use of space technology for surveillance of World Heritage sites.

Non-Governmental Organizations, universities and governments also participated in BEGo, for which satellites monitored World Heritage Sites in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Uganda. These sites are home to some 650 mountain gorillas.

The satellite images provided by ESA to UNESCO were used to develop maps compatible with the Global Positioning System (GPS). These maps will allow authorities to follow the gorillas and monitor any changes or degradation to their habitat. Up until now, available maps were inaccurate and covered only part of the territory concerned.

A comparison of the satellite images taken over the site between 1990 and 2003 has also provided an accurate picture of the impact on the environment caused by the the arrival refugees, deforestation and poaching.

The UNESCO/ESA meeting will be chaired by Marcio Barbosa, UNESCO Deputy Director-General, and Jean-Pol Poncelet, ESA Director of the Directorate of External Relations. The presentation of the project results will be followed by a Round Table attended by representatives from the National Parks of Rwanda and Uganda, the Congolese Institute for the Conservation of Nature, the International Gorilla Conservation Programme, the Wildlife Conservation Society, the Institute of Tropical Forest Conservation, the DRC Ambassador to UNESCO, the ambassadors of Rwanda and Uganda to the European Union and the delegates of Belgium and the Netherlands to the ESA.