On 23rd May the last data points were collected for the survey of mountain gorillas, large mammals and illegal activities within the transboundary Virunga Massif. The intensive exercise involved participation of over 100 men and women from more than 10 institutions to accomplish the systematic and complete coverage of the 451 km2 transboundary area twice – from October to December 2015 and March to May 2016. Two “sweeps” were conducted to collect sufficient data on which to calculate the most robust possible estimate of the gorilla population. As teams surveyed the area, they recorded signs of mountain gorillas, other large mammals such as elephants and golden monkeys, as well as illegal human activities like bamboo cutting or discovery of snare traps. Fecal samples were collected for pathogen and genetic analyses. Data and sample analyses will continue throughout the year, with the final results expected to be released by the Greater Virunga Transboundary Collaboration in 2017.
What were some of the many results of this enormous effort beyond the tens of thousands of data points? Re-opened channels of communication and trust built between the three countries based on this collective achievement now to be used for day-to-day monitoring and law enforcement activities, the successful introduction and uptake of handheld electronic devices for data collection (no data entry stage!!!!), and three women team members, including a woman as lead on a census team!
IGCP is already busy – working closely with PAAs, partners and almost daily with the Greater Virunga Transboundary Collaboration – on the uptake of the information already gathered, especially related to the extent and nature of the illegal activities encountered by the census teams on the two sweeps, and most notably the rope and metal snares which gorillas can, and unfortunately do fall prey to.