Back to the business of mountain gorilla monitoring

Monitoring the location and health of habituated mountain gorillas is something, under ideal circumstances, that happens every day. Unfortunately, the conditions in different parts of the Virunga Massif have been far from ideal for a good part of this year.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo side of the Virunga Massif, in Virunga National Park’s gorilla sector, M23 rebels have occupied large portions of the gorilla sector since May of this year. However, recently, the park was able to negotiate to get a small team of specialized rangers into the gorilla sector to check in on the habituated mountain gorilla groups.

Two gorilla groups have thus far been found, with the team in pursuit of the others. The amazing thing is that they are finding a significant number of new infants, a trend that everyone hopes to hold true for all of the habituated (and even non-habituated) mountain gorilla groups in Virunga NP.

In addition, on the Rwanda side of the Virunga Massif, Karisoke Research Center and the Rwanda Development Board have re-initiated routine monitoring of the mountain gorilla groups habituated for research within Volcanoes National Park. Monitoring of the groups was suspended for several days after an anti-poaching patrol post was attacked on December 2nd and tragically one Karisoke staff member, Esdras Nsengiyumva, was killed by gunfire from suspected FDLR rebels.

What is truly impressive, is the level of commitment in the rangers that do this important work, with the full and fresh knowledge of the risks involved. They deserve every once of our collective support.

3 Comments

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  • Clive Richardson said

    Reply?

    Dear Anna,

    While it is possibly not a necessity my concern is that other regions of Africa, possibly Mt Meru Arusha National Park or Kilimanjaro National Park Shira Plateau, might provide alternative safe habitat for mountain Gorillas if the problems in the DRC, Uganda and Rwanda escalate. I have been wondering of any surveys have been carried out in such locations to determine if there have been populations of Gorillas, in the past, in such places while also assessing if the mountain vegetation is similarly suited to Gorilla diets. My reading of the current situation is that there is unlikely to be a pronounced improvement or political solution while various national as well as international forces continue to challenge to secure resources. What is your view on this? Do you think that there should be a back up plan that would include relocations to habitat at a distance from the current locations. Could this in some way assist the deteriorating situation.?

    BR

    Clive.

  • Anna Behm Masozera Post author said

    Reply?

    Hello Clive,

    Thank you for your thoughtful comment. For a critically endangered species, all options should be on the table. At the moment, conservation organizations are working with the protected area authorities in the three countries to do what we can to protect the mountain gorillas in situ within their two habitat locations – Virunga Massif and Bwindi-Sarambwe. There is much that we can still do there. In addition, mountain gorillas are sensitive to change, making relocation very risky. As far as potential habitat for mountain gorillas beyond their current locations, I guess the closest would be Nyungwe National Park in SW Rwanda as the terrain and flora are very similar to Bwindi in Uganda. But again, there are far too many risks associated with moving the gorillas, both for the gorillas and the habitat to make this a feasible option. Much less risk involved in doing what we can to protect the mountain gorillas where they are. Surprisingly, this has been done, due to the heroic efforts of park staff and individual community members throughout all the tumultuous years in the region.

    Thanks again for your comment!

    Anna

  • Thankyou so much for reports on the great work being done. I am very frightened by the constant instability in the area and now with oil exploration underway, how this will further impact on the mountain gorillas right to live freely. I was really pleased to hear that Spain has afforded the gorilla rights and wonder if other countries could be made to do the same (should I say encouraged not made!). But I wonder what you think about conserving species of gorillas through in-captivity breeding programmes. They are not idea, but is anything better than nothing? Or do you see them as a waste of money?