FROM THE VIRUNGA MASSIF TO BWINDI IMPENETRABLE NATIONAL PARK – The Count Continues…

It is now official that the much anticipated survey of mountain gorillas, large mammals, and illegal activities or ‘census’ in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda, is finally here. In December 2017, the Greater Virunga Transboundary Collaboration (GVTC) issued a formal letter launching the census in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and the aspirations and planning to include contiguous Sarambwe Nature Reserve, DRC. This official communication also spells out the objective of the census, the roles and tasks of participating organizations as well as the expected dates of commencement – 12th March 2018.

 On 12th March, the census teams will enter the forest to start the tedious work of collecting data and faecal samples –  a very exciting milestone!  Unlike in the Virunga Massif where the vegetation varies along elevation gradients from mixed forest to alpine zone, with a topography characterized by mountains of volcanic origin, steep slopes with heavily eroded aspect, gentle slopes and flat zones in the saddles of these magnificent volcanoes, Bwindi gets its name Impenetrable for a reason – Bwindi is rugged with narrow valleys intersected by rivers and steep hills. The vegetation is dominated by mixed forest with dense growth of herbs, vines and shrubs making the forest very difficult for the census teams to easily navigate through. The teams will also be working during the rainy seasons. Clearly the teams have a tough task ahead, but we are confident that they will do an efficient job owing to their tried and tested census experience and upcoming refresher census training.

IGCP, and direct partner the Institute of Tropical Forest Conservation, are working hard to ensure that the teams are well equipped and supported through the process. IGCP – and the field teams – are very grateful for the donations – both financial and direct – which have come in to support this cause.

Prior to the start of data and sample collection, a one-week training for the field teams will be conducted to orient the participants on the use of hand-held electronic devices to be used, map and compass use, data entry and how to conduct the survey and planning the daily survey routes to ensure thorough coverage of the entire Bwindi area.

Internal planning meetings continue to be conducted and procurement of census equipment already started too. An outreach and mobilization campaign is underway by the Uganda Wildlife Authority, IGCP, and the Institute of Tropical Forest Conservation to ensure all institutions and the population living around Bwindi are aware of the effort and how they will be asked to play a role.

The primary purpose of the mountain gorilla census is to establish an abundance estimate with the associated objective to understand what changes can be noted over time. Additional objectives of this effort include collecting data on illegal activities in the park and analyzing their relationship with gorilla distribution and dynamics.

Census fieldwork is planned to take place in two “sweeps:” from March – May 2018 and from September – November 2018. The process is conducted twice across the entire habitat to ensure that there’s enough data to calculate a robust estimate of the gorilla population. During this survey the contiguous Sarambwe Nature Reserve in DRC will most likely be surveyed too, to ensure a complete assessment of the status of the transboundary population of mountain gorillas.

 The 2018 Bwindi-Sarambwe population surveys of mountain gorillas, large mammals, and illegal activities are being conducted by the Protected Area Authorities in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (Uganda Wildlife Authority and l’Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature) under the transboundary framework of the Greater Virunga Transboundary Collaboration. The census is supported by the Rwanda Development Board, International Gorilla Conservation Programme (a coalition of Fauna & Flora International and WWF), Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, Institute of Tropical Forest Conservation, Gorilla Doctors, Conservation Through Public Health, Wildlife Conservation Society Uganda Country Office, WWF Uganda Country Office, and Bwindi Mgahinga Conservation Trust. The census was funded by Fauna & Flora International, WWF, and Partners in Conservation at the Columbus Zoo & Aquarium.

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