Trackers and park rangers from Rwanda, Uganda and DR Congo have started using the Global Positioning System (GPS) for the gorilla census exercise in the Virunga Volcanoes Region.
Enumerators followed a gorilla trail through Rwanda’s thick towering bamboos of Volcanoes National Park until they located the nest site, from where they carried out a scientific recording.
Unlike human census, in gorillas census, one does not encounter gorillas, all they look for is a nest where gorillas slept the previous night. Enumerators take records of gorilla solid wastes and keep them for genetical examination, from which they determine the age and lineage of the identified specie.
Experts say that once the gorilla dung is measured and taken to laboratories it can help identify the number of gorillas in the park, their age and sex and their DNA, among other criteria.
Every evening, gorillas make nests in which to sleep. They never return to those nests. Currently, the number of gorillas in the Virunga Massif is estimated at 800.
Figures from Rwanda Development Board (RDB) indicate that the last census was carried out in 2010, giving an estimate of 480 gorillas living in social groups and 14 silverbacks (solitary male gorillas).
Every five years, a census of gorillas is carried out in the Virunga Massif – which is a combination of Virunga National Park in DR Congo, Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda.
The 2015/2016 Mountain gorilla census is being conducted under the framework of the Greater Virunga Transboundary Collaboration (GVTC), with the work being done by Rwanda Development Board (RDB), Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), and I’Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature.
Those who participated in the gorilla census said the exercise has helped them acquire advanced scientific skills, which will help them in their job whenever they are tasked to carry out the census in future.
Vastine Tindimwebwa from Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, said the training had helped her.
“The training is more scientific and gives an opportunity to learn how to do our stuff scientifically, we are using advanced tools such as the cyber trucker and it helped us register all the data from the field which are later studied in a laboratory,” she pointed out.
“As we trail, we start with the recce and whatever we find, we put it in the machine, our focus is gorilla nests and the dung. From the findings one can identify figures of gorillas their genetics, sex and age group”.
Faustin Ntibishaka from Volcanoes National Park said the experience was very sophisticated and scientifically revealing.
“This is a good experience, we used GPS to coordinate locations and we worked with experienced trackers. From the census, I realized you can know what problems the gorillas have and diseases they are likely to suffer and help in interventions,” he said.
Belise Kariza, the Chief Tourism officer in RDB, told journalists prior to the census exercise that it would strengthen the accuracy of the previous census exercises.
“Getting the demographics, which include age and sex ratio, size and numbers of groups and the surrounding vegetation and water sources in comparison with the human activity in the area.
Dr Georges Muamba Tshibasu, Executive Secretary, GVTC, noted that normal reproduction rate of the gorillas has significantly increased in the recent past, due to the increased collaboration and security in the three countries covering the Virunga Massif.
“The census results, which will be released in 2017, are a best indicator of the yields in terms of security, research and environmental health dividends obtained by the three countries through the GVTC,” said Muamba.
Experts say that dung measuring 7.2cm (radius), with silvery long hair in it, means an adult male gorilla (silverback) slept in the nest, and figures below that indicate that young gorilla slept in the nest. Other dung is classified as medium size.