Conservation wins as gorilla population exceeds 1,000

Rwanda mountain gorillas from the Susa group, one of the biggest gorilla families in Volcanoes National Park. Sam Ngendahimana.

Conservations efforts to save the endangered mountain gorillas are paying off after the latest census put the figure at over 1,000 up from 800 when the last count was carried out.

The Virunga Mountains are habitat of these primates, with 604 mountain gorillas living in the vast area that covers three countries; Rwanda, DR Congo and Uganda. This number has gone up from 480.

The others live in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda.

The 604 mountain gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei) documented in a survey is the largest number of mountain gorillas ever recorded in the trans-boundary Virunga Massif, one of the two remaining areas where these critically endangered apes are found.

“When all combined, an estimated 1,004 mountain gorillas existed in the wild as of June 2016,” reads a statement from Rwanda Development Board (RDB).

RDB spearheads conservation efforts of the animals in Rwanda.

The 2015-2016 survey was conducted by the Protected Area Authorities of DR Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda under the trans-boundary framework of the Greater Virunga Trans-boundary collaboration.

The duration between the completion of the census and announcement of the results is due to the time required to conduct the genetic analysis, which was necessary to provide the most accurate results.

The survey attributes the increase in mountain gorillas to the effectiveness of conservation policies and strategies, including regulated tourism, daily protection and veterinary interventions, intensive law enforcement, community conservation projects, and transboundary collaboration.

“Further, these results are a testament to the tireless effort of the rangers and trackers who daily protect and monitor mountain gorillas and their habitat, including those that have been killed in the line of duty,” it says, adding that over 175 rangers have sacrificed their lives protecting Virunga National Park in the last 20 years.

Félix Ndagijimana, the Director of Rwanda programmes at Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund and Karisoke Research Center, said that the success in gorilla conservation is largely due to the high-level collaboration among the different stakeholders.

The report highlights that the two populations of mountain gorillas remain small and vulnerable to a potentially 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.

Meanwhile, the survey teams also collected data on signs and sightings of select mammals, such as elephant, and illegal activities, such as snares.

While exercising caution due to the limitations of the study, there were no indications of declines in populations for the select mammals surveyed, including elephants since 2010, the survey shows

Conservation efforts in Rwanda and the region have taken multiple approaches including citizen mobilization, expansion of habitat, veterinary services among others.

Currently, the Volcanoes National Park, home to the gorrilas (on Rwanda’s side) covers 160km2 with plans underway for further expansion.

The conservation initiatives and efforts are also increasingly attracting support from across the globe.

For instance, African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) early this year handed over 27 hectares of land on the outskirts of Volcanoes National Park in Northern Province, to boost the ongoing effort to expand the habitat of the rare ape.

Famous American television personality and actor Ellen DeGeneres is the latest to join in the conservation efforts and recently announced that she will soon set up a facility in Rwanda for Dian Fossey’s work to help protect the critically endangered mountain gorillas in the Virunga Mountains.

Up to 239 mountain gorillas have been named in 12 ceremonies since 2005.

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