The reserve is culturally significant too. Locals have a legend about Lac Bleu, a crystal-clear lake that we had an opportunity to swim in a long the way to the reserve.  Locals say that Lac Bleu is a mirror dropped into the verdant valley by a beautiful celestial creature who fears being captured if she retrieves it.

Around 17,000 people live near the reserve and their traditional way of life can threaten the wildlife. The Aspinall Foundation works to address this through community projects that promote sustainable practices to reduce pressures like illegal logging, poaching, and bush fires.

The reserve’s biggest success story is the reintroduction of critically endangered western lowland gorillas. Through The Foundation’s Gorilla Protection Project, orphaned gorillas are raised and released back into the wild. This has led to breeding groups forming, with the largest troop led by a silverback who arrived at the project as an orphan in 1993.