Organizations are pulling together resources and the number of primates is increasing, resulting in a positive conservation status for Gorillas in Africa. Africa boasts a diverse range of wildlife species that have provided substantial socioeconomic benefits over the years, solidifying its position as one of the world’s premier tourism destinations. However, despite these significant advantages, several African wildlife species, including the Mountain gorilla, Ethiopian wolf, Black Rhino, Rothchild’s Giraffe, Chimpanzee, African Penguin, Riverine Rabbit, African Wild Dog, and the Pickergrill’s Reedfrog, are listed as critically threatened on the Red List of Threatened Species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), highlighting the urgent need for their protection and conservation efforts. This is particularly true for Gorilla Conservation efforts in Uganda, Rwanda, and Congo.
Mountain gorillas are found within four national parks – Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (Uganda), Virunga National Park (Congo), and the Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda. Being predominantly terrestrial and quadruped, mountain gorillas possess longer and thicker fur than their cousins the lowland gorillas which enables them to adapt to more cold temperatures. Gorilla Conservation in Africa – Uganda, Rwanda and Congo
Adult males have a more pronounced bony crest with gray and silver colored hair on their backs that is developed with age hence the name Silverback. Mountain gorillas weigh between 195kg to 200kg which is twice as much as their female counterparts. They have arms stretching longer than their legs and move in a knuckle-walking position supporting their weight by the backs of their curved fingers.
Between 1959 and 1960, the population of Mountain gorillas had been fluctuating. The first Gorilla census carried out by George Schaller estimated between 400 to 500 individuals in the Virunga conservation area. This was then followed by the 1971 and 1973 gorilla censuses carried out by Dian Fossey and her Karisoke Research Center team which showed a dramatic decline in Gorilla numbers down to 250. This decline was attributed to increased poaching coupled with the loss of up to 40 percent of volcanic National Park land to agricultural cultivates. Gorilla Census in Bwindi Uganda The 1978 census by the Karisoke Research Center found about 260 gorillas with 42 infants below the age of three years.
The number increased to approximately 320 in the Bwindi impenetrable forest and 324 in the Virunga conservation area during the 1989 census following the death of Dian Fossey in 1985. The number gradually rose to 380 and 480 in 2003 and 2010 respectively in the Virunga conservation area showing a 26.3% increase in the gorilla population over seven years. Unlike in the Virunga volcanoes, the census in Bwindi’s impenetrable forest was carried out differently with the 1997 gorilla census revealing a total of 300 individuals rising to 320 in 2002. This however declined to 302 in the 2006 population census. A total of 682 mountain gorillas were found in the 2006 gorilla census in both the Virunga region and Bwindi impenetrable national parks with a further 138 increase in 2012 and over 1000 mountain gorillas in the wild in the most recent 2018 gorilla census.
Despite these encouraging figures of continually rising numbers in mountain gorilla population over the past years, these mighty apes still face several threats resulting from human behaviors that are believed to have once almost brought the primates to extinction in the early 1970s. These threats can largely be classified into Social, Economic, and Political situations brought about by humans primarily.
As years move on, human populations keep rising by the day. This has seen forests encroached upon for human settlements and agricultural and pastoral activities. This has resulted in the loss of habitat, breeding, and feeding grounds for the mountain gorillas. Due to a lack of food, the mountain gorillas are then tempted to feed on the human farm plantations attracting retaliation from the opposing end. Increased human interactions with mountain gorillas in terms of settlements and tourism activities like gorilla trekking increase the chances of human infectious diseases such as pneumonia, flu, and recently Ebola to these mountain gorillas.
Civil and political crisis in DR Congo has led to the loss of an estimated four million lives within a period of just more than a decade. This civil and political unrest has not only led to the deaths of mountain Gorillas but also loss of habitat as civilians overcrowd the refugee settlements. Climatic change has also been found to be a threat Mountain gorillas have specific traits like productive rates and genetic variations that make them vulnerable to diverse climatic changes.
Dian Fossey, an American primatologist, initiated mountain gorilla conservation efforts in the 1970s upon her arrival in Rwanda. She dedicated her life to researching mountain gorillas and exploring alternative solutions to conserve the declining population of these primates in East Africa. You can honor Dian Fossey’s legacy by exploring our 3 Days Dian Fossey Hike and Gorilla Trekking package.
Gorilla Conservation in Rwanda To date, mountain gorilla conservation efforts across Africa have been benchmarked to three categories – Active, theoretical, and community-based activities to help curb the problems concerning mountain gorillas within the region. Governments in collaboration with other gorilla conservation organizations have then been actively involved in conservation efforts by coming up with and Implementing policies driven towards achieving a common goal of a threat-free mountain Gorilla population.
Conservation efforts have mainly focused on attaining a balance between meeting the diverse and ever-growing needs of communities and the preservation of breeding grounds for mountain gorillas. To achieve this, community-based and individual analysis has taken the forefront. Strategies have been taken to achieve a sustainable livelihood through economically empowering these masses in alternative revenue-generating projects to substitute deforestation and uncontrolled natural resource access within the protected regions. Mountain gorilla conservation in Uganda.
These efforts have led to communities leasing lands to expand protected areas, while trust funds generated through gorilla tourism aid in the development of services and support for sustainable agriculture. Additionally, initiatives to involve communities in decision-making processes and raise awareness about the importance of wildlife conservation have taken root. Beyond community-based endeavors like enhancing lodging and infrastructure, renovations have been carried out at park headquarters to promote tourism. Other crucial gorilla conservation activities encompass periodic gorilla census counts in the concentrated mountain gorilla habitats, vigilant ranger patrols, dismantling of set traps, on-ground law enforcement, and the fortification of protected areas.
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