Mountain Gorilla Conservation
Mountain gorilla conservation started way back in the early years, more especially in the 1970s with the arrival of Dian Fossey in the Virunga mountains of Rwanda. Dian Fossey dedicated her life and time to study the gorillas, conserve, protect and finding alternative solutions to help conserve the continually decreasing population of mountain gorillas in East and Central Africa.
Mountain gorillas can only be found in the Virunga massifs that encompass three national parks of three different countries say Virunga National Park of the Congo, Volcanoes National Park of Rwanda and Uganda’s Mgahinga Gorilla National Park; and Bwindi Impenetrable National Park also found in Uganda. These great giant apes in recent pasts were dwindling in number, with constant gorilla population fluctuating between 1959 and 1960.
George Schaller’s gorilla population census, the very first of its kind, registered 400 gorilla individuals in the Virunga conservation area. Dian Fossey’s gorilla census in the same area in the years 1971 and 1973 registered only 250 mountain gorillas. This drastic decline was largely attributed to poaching and habitat loss with locals largely encroaching on the protected areas. The 1978 gorilla census saw the population increase to 260 in the Virunga Conservation Area, and the 1989 census registered 324 in the same area and Bwindi Impenetrable National Park alone had 320. The population slowly increased with 480 individuals found in the Virunga Conservation Area in 2010. The 2018 gorilla census had the population rising from 480 to 604 in the Virunga Conservation Area and the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park alone had a rise from 400 to 459 individuals.
Mountain gorilla conservation has been done in three capacities say rhetorical, active and community based so as to curb the challenges faced by mountain gorillas. This has been collaborative efforts by the governments in these three countries with other gorilla conservation organizations and bodies. These have actively and collaboratively come up with policies that aim at achieving the common goal of conserving the gorillas, and consequently implementing them. Organisations and bodies like the African Wildlife Foundation, Fauna and Flora International and the World Wide Fund (WWF) jointly established the International Gorilla Conservation Program that has spear headed mountain gorilla conservation in the three countries since 1991.
Mountain gorilla conservation efforts has been possible with the help of the public health organisations that work tirelessly to treat the gorillas and prevent the spread of diseases amongst themselves or from humans who visit. Gorilla Doctors have also played a big role in the conservation if mountain gorillas especially in the Congo where they are attached often and caught between crossfires whenever there are insurgencies.
Emphasizing the importance of gorilla tourism to the locals who in the past poached and encroached on the habits of the mountain gorillas for either settlement or cattle rearing has been one great way that has seen mountain gorilla conservation possible. These communities receive given percentages from the revenue collected from gorilla permits so as to improve their ways of life, and also participate in the sector by providing services like porterage and also sell crafts. This has seen them change their mentality towards the gorillas and have instead turned to be their protectors.
Bodies responsible for the regulation and conservation of these mountain gorillas like the Uganda Wildlife Authority and the Rwanda Development Board have improved the facilities that tourists use while in the forests and set strict rules and regulations to be followed when embarking on gorilla trekking in these regions. These measures play a big role in mountain gorilla conservation as the tourists practice responsible tourism when visiting the parks and the gorillas, say maintaining a 7-meter distance from the gorillas so as to not transmit any infections to them, or even not tracking completely if found sick on the day of trekking.
The park rangers in these gorilla national parks play a huge role in the bid to conserve the mountain gorillas. They protect them from those still adamant poachers and rebels who sometimes find refuge in these parks. These have been able to stop illegal wildlife trading, border crossing thus a successful mountain gorilla conservation effort that has seen a significant rise in the population of the mountain gorillas.
Other mountain gorilla conservation efforts like ranger patrols, removing set traps, on-ground law enforcement have all been significantly paying off.
The governments of the Congo, Rwanda and Uganda need to continue with the support they have rendered to the conservation of the mountain gorillas and working along with the gorilla organisations for the same purpose so as to foster continuity of gorilla tourism which is a high revenue earner to each of the countries.