What are the key factors behind the surging mountain gorillas?
Mountain gorillas, exclusively found in the Virunga Mountains of Rwanda, Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo and in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park of Southwestern Uganda were recently regarded as critically endangered species.
However, in 2018, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) declared that mountain gorillas were no longer critically endangered and were placed in the endangered category. The organization also removed mountain gorillas from its Red List of Threatened Species to confirm that these great apes are no longer critically endangered, thanks to the combined conservation efforts directed to save these giant primates.
Over the past few decades, the population of mountain gorillas has been steadily growing. In the late 70s and early 80s the global population of mountain gorillas was estimated to be around 250 individuals. It is really very impressive to see that this number has multiplied four times with the latest figures indicating there are 1,063 mountain gorillas in the wild today.
But such impressive numbers of mountain gorillas have not just come out of the blue, there is a lot of being done in the background by several conservation stakeholders to ensure that our cousins continue to thrive in their natural habitat. Here are some of the major factors that have helped to ensure the growth and increase in the global population of mountain gorillas.
Conservation organizations like the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund are some of the major key players in gorilla conservation. The Gorilla Fund, based in one of the homes of mountain gorillas of Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda basically undertakes gorilla protection, scientific research about gorillas and educating several groups of people about gorilla conservation all aimed at ensuring the well-being of these primates. The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund is the largest and longest-running organization fully dedicated to gorilla conservation. The organization directs its efforts towards protecting gorilla families, studying how they live, and teaching local communities and future scientists to do the same. They also carry out various campaigns in which they mobilize for funds from individual contributions that are used to support gorilla protection programs.
Respective governments of countries with mountain gorillas have put in place various agencies to help protect mountain gorillas. For example, the Uganda Wildlife Authority and the Rwanda Development Board of Uganda and Rwanda respectively are the major conservation enforcers on behalf of government in their countries. Such authorities have helped to put up guidelines that govern all wildlife activities including gorilla trekking in order to protect the animals. For instance, concerning gorilla trekking, all trekkers are restricted to spending only one hour in the presence of gorillas while each gorilla group is also visited once a day by a group of only 8 trekkers. Such guidelines have helped to ensure that the gorillas continue to thrive in their habitat with limited human interference. The authorities also train and deploy rangers who monitor the gorillas on a daily basis and also fight against poachers. They also ensure that local communities don’t destroy or encroach on gorilla habitats through resettling them and educating them to leave in harmony with the animals.
Tour operators in gorilla trekking destinations especially Uganda and Rwanda are also very instrumental as far as gorilla protection is concerned. Together with the travelers who come to see the mountain gorillas, tour operators are the ones at the receiving end of the tour regulations from the wildlife authorities and therefore they are responsible to follow and implement them, something they have done very well. In fact, it’s the tour operators who transmit these gorilla trekking rules and regulations to the travelers who book gorilla safaris through their companies so that they come when they are ready. Tour operators also market wildlife activities like gorilla trekking to international travelers who in the end bring income through gorilla safaris that is used by wildlife authorities to strengthen gorilla conservation.
Money brought in by tourists who come to see mountain gorillas maybe described as the end product of all the efforts undertaken by both governments and tour operators ensuring hence benefitting the economy through gorilla protection. Gorilla trekking is one of the most expensive wildlife activities though it is worth it hence fetching governments millions of dollars that can be used to develop even other sectors of the economy. Perhaps Rwanda may be the biggest beneficiary of gorilla trekking since the country has the most expensive gorilla permit in the region at $1,500 per person. Uganda’s gorilla permit is sold at $600 per person and will be increased to $700 from July 2020. Democratic Republic of Congo has the cheapest gorilla permit at $450 though political instabilities in the eastern part of the country where gorillas are found have limited the number of tourists who go there to trek mountain gorillas. It is the money brought in by gorilla trekkers that has helped to ensure that gorilla protection is successful by as it is used to fund all the projects undertaken in gorilla conservation.
In the past, the people living around gorilla habitats were a very big threat to the apes since they used to poach them for trophies while others were killed as they were found eating crops in people’s gardens. As gorilla conservation efforts were intensified, the locals were sensitized about the importance of protecting these animals and some were even hired to be part of the conservation work as guides, porters and rangers and. Getting involved in the gorilla conservation activities has helped these reformed and former poachers to earn income and therefore they are no longer considering killing animals to earn a living. Cultural villages like the Batwa communities have been organized around gorilla habits where the local people interact with the travelers through cultural performances and selling their hand-made products like crafts to them to earn income. All this has helped to harmonize the relationship between the local people and the gorillas hence ensuring that they are safe from poaching.
Fast facts about mountain gorillas
• Gorillas share about 98 percent of the human DNA
• Mountain gorillas are only found in 3 countries in the world, that is Uganda, Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo
• Gorillas in the Virunga Mountains usually switch habitats most commonly crossing to and back between Uganda and Rwanda borders
• The global population of mountain gorillas is currently (2020) 1,063 individuals
• Uganda has more than half of the global population of mountain gorillas with majority found in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and some in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park.
• Mountain gorillas live in groups or families and each family is led by a strong male known as a silverback. The average number of gorillas in a group is about 15 individuals
• Rwanda hosts an annual gorilla-naming ceremony known as “Kwita Izina”, in which new born gorillas are given names
• Gorilla safaris in Uganda, Rwanda and DR Congo take place throughout the year though the dry season of June to September and December to February is more conducive for gorilla trekking
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