Nose prints and mountain gorilla know-how

All gorillas are just as physically and genetically different as you are from your neighbor.

To know these differences helps to monitor mountain gorilla population demographic changes and health status of habituated gorillas. Knowing the identities of all individual gorillas in the habituated groups and maintaining a database on the demographic changes of these gorillas is quite important for monitoring the status of all individuals and composition of each habituated group and to detect and accurately report any individual behaviors, illness or injury to management and veterinarians.

In addition, it helps to provide more accurate information on births (natalities), deaths (mortalities) and migrations that can be used in assessing the growth rate of the population. In the same way, the historic information gathered from demography database for each individual and group provide a more meaningful experience for tourists.

In March 2011, the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) in collaboration with Max Planck Institute of Evolutionary Anthropology, initiated a program aiming at assessing the status of gorilla identification in the habituated gorilla groups and to update the demographic database on all known habituated individuals in Bwindi and Mgahinga Conservation Area.
With IGCP support, a training in gorilla identification was organized in Rubuguli from 28th to 29th January 2013, gathering rangers, trackers and tourist guides of the southern sector of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park as well as from Mgahinga Gorilla National Park. The objective of this two-day training was to equip them with skills used in identification of gorillas using physical features including nose print, physical appearance, deformities and behavior attributes.

The sit-down part of the gorilla ID training.

The sit-down part of the gorilla ID training.

Participants explaining the group composition of Nkuringo gorilla group with distinguishing features of each individual of the group.

Participants explaining the group composition of Nkuringo gorilla group with distinguishing features of each individual of the group.

This opportunity was used to provide them with skills in taking high resolution pictures using digital camera and using binoculars which are the main gadgets used in gorilla identification. At the end of the training a practical field work was organized and training participants visited Bweza gorilla group as a way of applying theoretical skills from the training. Although, under a heavy rain, participants were able to identify some gorillas in the group and asked different questions. Participant were requested to use the skills acquired spread the knowledge to their team mates who were not able to attend the training.

The team from the field after being showered by a heavy rain (No picture was take in the park due to the heavy rain).

The team from the field after being showered by a heavy rain (No picture was take in the park due to the heavy rain).

The International Gorilla Conservation Programme has been supporting this important programme in Virunga-Bwindi Massif, habitat of the remaining mountain gorilla. IGCP is renewing its support to gorilla demography program in Bwindi-Mgahinga Conservation Area and other parks (Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda and Virunga National Park, DRC) in terms of technical support, equipment and training in order to update and sustain the gorilla demography database.

- Charles Kayijamahe, IGCP Field Officer

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  • I really like that one. Keep up the good work on your blog.