Mountain gorillas are one of the four gorilla subspecies and they live in only two locations, that is in the Virunga Mountains that straddle the borders of Uganda, Rwanda, and DR Congo and in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in southwest Uganda. The global population of mountain gorillas is estimated to be around 1,063 individuals according to the gorilla census of 2018. Mountain gorillas are the only gorilla subspecies whose population is currently increasing. They are more popularly known compared to other subspecies thanks to intensified conservation efforts that have opened way for gorilla tourism through which travellers are welcomed for gorilla safaris and tours.
The intensive conservation efforts to protect mountain gorillas undertaken by wildlife authorities and other conservation organizations like the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund in Rwanda and DR Congo is the primary reason for the increase in their population. Back in the late 1960s when American Primatologist Dian Fossey started her work of studying and protecting mountain gorillas in Virunga Mountains of Rwanda, only about 200 gorillas were estimated to be in the wild. Since then, the number of mountain gorillas has been gradually increasing and this continued to be the case even after the demise of Dian Fossey in 1985 because both government and conservationists took it upon themselves to continue from where she had stopped in protecting these endangered primates.
Fossey was murdered by poachers in December 1985. For a long time, poachers had considered Fossey as an obstacle because of her incredible work of protecting the gorillas and they finally eliminated her in order to hunt the animals without any limitation. Fortunately, Fossey’s incredible work was recognized immediately after her death and the Fossey Fund organization was set up to continue protecting gorillas and it even opened doors for many other conservationists around the world to support this work through financial contributions. Dian Fossey was buried in the same gorilla habitat where she had lived for over two decades and her tomb is located at Karisoke Research Center in Volcanoes National Park where gorilla trekkers usually visit to pay her tribute.
In 2017, World Gorilla Day was started on September 24 to coincide with the founding of Fossey’s Karisoke Research Center which is now 53 years old. The day is now celebrated worldwide to recognize the majesty of gorillas and to address the threats facing the survival of these elusive gentle giants with whom we share 98% of our DNA.
To confirm this great success in gorilla conservation, in 2018, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) reclassified mountain gorillas from critically endangered to endangered.
Gorilla conservation goes beyond protecting gorillas
According to the Dian Fossey Fund which focuses on gorilla research and conservation in both Rwanda and DR Congo, they undertake several projects and programs in order to achieve their main objective of gorilla conservation in addition to protecting the gorillas themselves. These include supporting the human communities that live around the gorilla habitats in both Rwanda and DR Congo. These communities initially relied on the forests to get food, income and medicine and now the organization intervenes to give them tools and education that they can use without going into the forests to destroy the gorilla habitat.
Some of the projects undertaken to improve livelihoods in these communities include offering mushroom and bamboo cultivation programs to give people a reliable source of food and income. Conservation Clubs are introduced to children in primary and secondary schools in order to inspire them to love and learn how to protect the environment around them as they grow up. Students at Karisoke Research Center are also trained in environmental conservation as well as offering scholarships to staff in an effort to build a generation of African conservationists.
Gorillas are victims of poaching aimed at other animals
Poaching is one of the biggest challenges that threaten the life of gorillas. In June this year, a silverback gorilla was killed by poachers in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park during the lockdown period in which the park was closed to visitors in order to control the spread of Covid-19 to the gorillas. It was reported that poachers used the gap presented by reduced monitoring and patrolling of the animals by the rangers due to Covid-19-control restrictions to enter the park to hunt for small wild animals. However, though the gorilla was not their target, he was reportedly killed in self defence after charging at the poachers. Gorillas are also regularly caught and injured by snares laid by poachers in their habitat to catch small animals like forest antelopes.
How the intensive work of gorilla protection is done
The Dian Fossey Fund has more than 200 staff working in both Rwanda and DR Congo who enter forests 365 days a year to track gorillas, study them and protect them from poachers. This is done in addition to programs offered to support communities that live near gorillas including food security, livelihood, and education initiatives in order to stop their reliance of the forests which are the habitats for gorillas. Conservationists have adopted what they refer to as “extreme conservation,” which focuses on daily protection of individual gorillas and their families and this has greatly contributed to saving gorillas from the brink of extinction.
Despite registering great success in their gorilla conservation efforts, conservationists at the Dian Fossey Fund are determined to continue with this struggle and they want all people to know that gorillas are still in extreme danger and therefore there is no need to relax in conservation efforts.
How you can contribute to gorilla protection
Researchers have indicated that everyone can indirectly contribute to gorilla protection just by ensuring we recycle our electronics well. Electronics like smartphones and computers use a metallic ore called coltan to keep them powered and functioning. It is also used make electric cars, medical equipment and other small electric devices.
One of the few areas on earth where this highly valuable mineral is found is in the lowland forests in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) which is also the only habitat for the critically endangered Grauer’s gorilla. Cobalt mining in this region is to a larger extent illegal and mostly carried out by rebel groups operating in the area. Miners hunt wildlife in search for food including critically endangered species like the Grauer’s gorilla, chimpanzees, and elephants. This has greatly contributed to the sharp decline in the population of the Grauer’s gorilla by almost 80% over the last two decades.
Since coltan is recyclable, we are all encouraged to recycle our old electronics in a responsible way so as to reduce the pressure on the forest, which is the habitat for these endangered gorillas. One of the ways to recycle these old electronics is by ensuring that you drop them off at your local participating zoo or you can simply visit eco-cell.com to find other ways of recycling these products safely. Any time you recycle an old phone through Eco-Cell, they make a donation to the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund hence contributing to saving gorillas in more than one way.