Seeing mountain gorillas in the wild

By | Category: Travel destinations

 

A gorilla feeding. Image © Bwindi Forest National Park

On many people’s bucket lists is a wish to see mountain gorillas in the wild. Go back a decade or two and that might have seemed an unlikely wish as numbers of the primates dropped due to a loss of habitat and other reasons.

Now it seems you have a greater opportunity than ever before because the number of mountain gorillas is increasing.

In the Virunga Massif, one of the two remaining areas where this critically endangered great ape is still found and which straddles Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, a recent counts found 604 mountain gorillas, the largest number ever found. When combined with the published figure of 400 mountain gorillas from Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda it is estimated that there are more than a thousand mountain gorillas in the wild or there were as of June 2016.

If you are wondering why this is only being made public now it is because counting gorillas isn’t the easiest thing to do. Many are so similar so that only someone who spends considerable time might be able to tell some apart from others but not hundreds. So the authorities conduct a genetic analysis from faecal samples collected non-invasively from mountain gorilla night nest sites. The process of genetic analysis of the samples, while taking time, offers the most reliable results.

Now you know!

The breakdown is that there are 604 individual gorillas in 41 groups and 14 solitary males. This is compared with an estimated 480 individual gorillas in 36 groups and as 14 solitary males from a survey of the same area in 2010.

The survey teams also collected data on signs and sightings of select mammals, such as elephants, and illegal activities, such as snares. The conclusion was that there was no indication of decline in populations for the mammals that they surveyed compared to 2010.

The increase in mountain gorillas inhabiting the Virunga Massif is attributed to the effectiveness of conservation policies, strategies, notably regulated tourism, daily protection and veterinary interventions, intensive law enforcement, community conservation projects, and transboundary collaboration among government institutions and others.

But don’t get complacent. The Greater Virunga Transboundary Collaboration says that the two populations of mountain gorillas remain small and vulnerable to a potential rapid decline due to factors such as their limited habitat, climate change, dependency on resources in the park by people, and the risk of disease transmission.

The other reason for not being compacent is that the Virunga Massif has been closed to tourists since the beginning of the month due to the murder of one of the rangers ( the 176th to be killed in the last five years) and the abduction of two tourists who were subsequently released. Bwindi is still open to visitors and the hope is that the security situation will improve and visitors can return.

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