See also:
» 24.09.2010 - Cousin of smallpox virus spreading in DR Congo
» 10.03.2010 - Guinea pigs to help ease DRC food crisis - scientists
» 04.01.2010 - DRC population still unharmed by volcano
» 16.12.2009 - DRC conservation initiative receives international recognition
» 20.10.2009 - DRC and Morocco elected to new forest financing programme
» 04.08.2009 - World bank signs first biocarbon agreement in DRC
» 20.07.2009 - Rare gorillas flee to DRC
» 08.05.2009 - DRC in the face of another volcanic eruption

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Congo Kinshasa | Rwanda
Science - Education | Environment - Nature

Mountain gorilla population recovering

Mountain gorilla silverback in the Virunga Massif

© IGCP/afrol News
afrol News, 8 December
- A new mountain gorilla census in Rwanda and Congo Kinshasa (DRC) shows a 26 percent increase in population of this endangered species during seven years. Mountain gorillas are among the region's main tourist attractions.

The analysis of a census of mountain gorillas conducted in March and April 2010 indicates that there were a total of 480 mountain gorillas, Gorilla beringei beringei, in 36 groups along with 14 solitary silverback males in the Virunga Massif.

The surveyed area includes three contiguous national parks: Parc National des Virunga in DRC, Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda. The only other location where mountain gorillas exist is Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda.

Along with the 302 mountain gorillas counted in Bwindi in 2006 and four orphaned mountain gorillas in a sanctuary in DRC, "this brings the total world population to a mere 786 individuals," according to the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF).

But despite this low global total population, the AWF census provides good news. The last census undertaken in the Virunga Massif was in 2003, when the population was estimated at 380 individuals.

"The current figure represents a 26.3 percent increase in the population of mountain gorillas in this area over the last seven years, which is a 3.7 percent annual growth rate," according to AWF. This increase in the population had occurred "despite the killing of no less than nine mountain gorillas, in four separate incidents, during this time period."

"This population has made an absolutely remarkable recovery from the approximately 250 individuals that existed only three decades ago," Augustin Basabose of the International Gorilla Conservation Programme (IGCP) told afrol News.

The recovery was "due to the relentless collaborative efforts of many organisations and institutions in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwa

Christopher Masaba, with the Uganda Wildlife Authority assists with the mountain gorilla census

© IGCP/afrol News
nda and Uganda," added Dr Basabose.

The census itself was a major exercise. Over 1,000 kilometres were systematically walked by 6 mixed teams of 72 people from DRC, Rwanda, and Uganda. The teams covered the entire range and meticulously documented fresh signs of mountain gorilla groups. Genetic analysis of faecal samples collected were analysed to identify and correct for any double-counting of individuals or groups, ensuring the most accurate estimate for the population.

Maryke Gray, who coordinated the Virunga gorilla census, says that, although habituated mountain gorillas are continuously monitored, periodic census of the population was a necessary step in conservation.

"The census allows all of us working in conservation to create a benchmark. Like any census, it captures the population at a specific point in time. This benchmark allows us to assess the status of this population as a whole and adjust our conservation efforts accordingly," explained Ms Gray.

Mountain gorillas are seen as one of the main attractions in this remote part of Central Africa, representing a major tourist destination in Rwanda, Uganda and eastern Congo.

Gorilla populations had been threatened by warfare in the region, which caused many war victims to flee into the mountain gorilla's habitats. Also poaching has been as great problem, especially during the past conflicts.

The threats from poaching, although reduced, have not been eliminated. Recently, a cross-border patrol discovered and destroyed just over 200 snares in the Virunga Massif over a five-day patrol. "Although poachers typically do not target mountain gorillas, the snares they set are a threat nonetheless," according to AWF.

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