Mountain gorilla numbers have increased, census reveals

Posted by admin July 5th, 2012

The population of endangered mountain gorillas has increased significantly in the last 30 years, say researchers.

A census carried out in the Virunga Massif – where most of the world’s mountain gorillas live – revealed 480 individuals living in 36 groups.

Conservationists say that, 30 years ago, only 250 gorillas survived in this same area.

Along with the 302 mountain gorillas from a census in Bwindi in 2006, the world population is now more than 780.

The Virunga Massif includes three contiguous national parks: Parc National des Virunga in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda.

The only other location where mountain gorillas exist is Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda.

A 2003 census estimated the population in Virunga at 380 individuals – so the current figure suggests that the population has increased by just over 25% in the last seven years.

Mountain gorilla (Image:C. Sholley)

More on mountain gorillas from BBC Wildlife Finder

Conservationists say the increase is thanks to that a collaborative “transboundary” effort by organisations in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Uganda to protect the gorillas and their habitat.

But, according to the African Wildlife Foundation and International Gorilla Conservation Programme (IGCP), the animals are still very much under threat.

A joint statement from the two organisations reported that a recent five-day patrol in the Virunga Massif discovered and destroyed 200 poachers’ snares.

Poachers typically do not target mountain gorillas, but the snares they set are a still a threat.

Director of the IGCP Eugene Rutagarama said: “Collectively, we cannot let down our guard on the conservation of these incredible animals.

“While mountain gorillas are physically strong, they are also incredibly vulnerable.”

Source: BBC Nature

S.O.S Gorilla in Integral magazine

Posted by admin September 10th, 2009

S.O.S Gorilla has been referenced in the magazine “Integral”. It appears in an article about gorilla preservation and their endangered situation.

U.N. steps in to save gorilla habitats

Posted by admin May 24th, 2009

A United Nations-backed initiative has been launched aimed at halting the destruction of the habitat of the East African mountain range gorilla, threatening the extinction of humans close relative, the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP) has announced.

The 2009 Year of the Gorilla (YoG) partnership is supporting a project enabling local residents in areas endangered by increasing demands for fuel — not least the Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) — to buy low-cost, fuel-efficient stoves.

Other measures needed to target the reduction of charcoal production include solar cookers, tree-planting on farms and the widespread use of fuel-efficient stoves, UNEP said on Friday.

Further cause of concern to the agency is the signing of land deals by many gorilla range States with foreign companies for agriculture, including bio-fuel production.

UNEP said that on top of destroying the habitat of numerous species through forest degradation, palm oil — an edible oil found 10 per cent of supermarket products and increasingly seen as a profitable bio-fuel — has a higher carbon footprint than the fossil fuels it replaces.

The agency noted that the erosion of forests not only threatens gorillas, it also intensifies climate change with tropical trees in undisturbed forests absorbing nearly 20 per cent of the carbon dioxide released by burning fossil fuels, or some 4.8 billion tonnes each year.

“Stopping the current overexploitation of natural resources is a key element of any strategy leading to a sustainable way of living,” said Robert Hepworth, UNEP Executive Secretary of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals.

“The forests and woodlands of Africa must play a central role in efforts to avoid dangerous climate change,” added Mr. Hepworth.

“There is a strong scientific case for carbon finance to make significant contributions to gorilla conservation, as gorilla range States would benefit financially from protecting their forests,” he said.

In addition, an influx of relatively well-paid workers who can afford to frequently eat meat has prompted a boom in the bush meat trade and the decline of gorilla populations.

UNEP said that together with other great apes, the survival of gorillas is also threatened by disease and epidemics, mining and the effects of armed conflicts.

Source: Hindu News Update Service

In Congo, With Rebels Now at Bay, Calm Erupts

Posted by admin March 5th, 2009

War, displacement and bloodthirsty rebels had gotten between them.

But for the first time in years, this section of a venerated Congolese national park is rebel-free. Government wildlife rangers, like Mr. Serundori, are firmly in control – for the moment. And Kabirizi, a 500-pound silverback gorilla with a head as big as an engine block, seems to be flourishing in his kingdom of leaves.

“Haa mmm,” Mr. Serundori says, emitting a special gruntlike gorilla greeting that miraculously stops Kabirizi in midcharge. “Haa mmm.”

If the endangered mountain gorillas are any sign, things may finally be looking up in eastern Congo. In the past several weeks, Congo and its disproportionately mighty neighbor, Rwanda, have teamed up to sweep this area clear of rebels who had been at the center of a vicious proxy battle between the nations.

The enmity of Congo and Rwanda has been one of the most stubborn drivers of the bloodshed here, which has claimed millions of lives in the past decade. But if these two countries continue to cooperate, it could represent a significant step toward ending one of Africa’s most vexing wars.

“This is really good news, that there’s a serious improvement in relations,” said Koen Vlassenroot, a professor at Ghent University in Belgium who specializes in eastern Congo. “But it’s still rather confusing.”

Mr. Vlassenroot and other Congo hands are warning that all the years of cross-border meddling and intrigue as thick as the Congolese jungle make it extremely difficult to tell whether the new Rwanda-Congo relationship is a genuine and lasting change, or simply more maneuvering.

The joint military operation has been somewhat successful, at least by eastern Congo’s depressingly low standards. The two former enemy armies fought side by side without massacring each other. They killed dozens of rebels, including some commanders, and exerted pressure on several hundred to leave the bush. They arrested Laurent Nkunda, the Congolese rebel leader and former general whose brutal tactics and Congo-size ambitions had threatened to plunge this entire region back into war.

But at least 100 villagers were killed, too, either in the cross-fire or by fleeing rebels bent on revenge. And there may be more bloodletting to come.

Over the past several years, most of Congo has wearily climbed out of war. Large tracts of the country, despite all the headlines, are peaceful. But it is these very hills along the Congo-Rwanda border that have remained a lush green killing field, with Rwanda supporting one rebel force and Congo supporting another.

The ensuing violence has sucked up so many of Congo’s political and military resources that the so-called wild, wild east has been like an intractable weight around the entire country’s neck.

Today, the hills are quiet, which has allowed the wildlife rangers back into Virunga National Park, home to 200 of the last 700 or so mountain gorillas on the planet. Thousands of villagers around the park have trudged home from displaced persons camps, another vote of tentative confidence.

“Business is picking up,” said Bahati Banyele, who fixes radios in a little town called Kibumba, which had emptied out during last fall’s fighting.

Nobody is celebrating yet.

People here remember all too well the Sun City peace treaty reached in South Africa in 2002, which was supposed to rein in marauding militias but did not.

They recall the democratic elections in 2006, which cost more than $500 million and raised hopes but did not end the war.

And they remember the countless cease-fires and conferences at fancy hotels that spelled more fighting even before the delegates jetted home.

One of the biggest points of uncertainty right now is Congo’s president, Joseph Kabila, who has gone out on a limb by inviting in the Rwandans, in the hope that this could break the deadlock between the countries.

Several former allies of Mr. Kabila among top lawmakers in Kinshasa, Congo’s capital, are now denouncing him as a traitor. They are demanding investigations.

Indeed, his precarious toehold on power could slip further if the Rwandan government, as many people here suspect, has not truly severed ties to the rebels.

The presence of Rwandan troops in eastern Congo makes a lot of Congolese nervous. The little country next door invaded Congo twice, in 1996 and 1998, ostensibly to secure its own borders, though human rights groups have accused Rwandan troops of plundering Congo’s rich trove of minerals and massacring civilians.

Mr. Serundori, the wildlife ranger, who is 50, said Rwanda-backed troops killed his wife in 1997. She was mentally ill and did not flee town when the troops stormed in.

His life, like so many others around here, has been circumscribed by conflict. He started working as a wildlife ranger in 1989, when Congo was dysfunctional, famously corrupt but relatively stable.

“There were so many tourists who wanted to see the gorillas,” he said. “Sometimes you had to wait a whole week.”

But in 1994, all that changed. More than a million refugees from Rwanda’s genocide poured into eastern Congo, which promptly exploded from many of the same tensions over ethnicity and land that tore Rwanda apart. The Congolese war dragged in a half-dozen other African countries, eager to settle their own scores and cart off Congo’s tin, timber, diamonds and gold.

The gorilla park became a battlefield. And a poacher’s paradise. Armed groups used their automatic weapons on hippos, chimps, gazelles, elephants and the gorillas.

Some of the rangers have been implicated in various criminal activities, most recently involving charcoal, which is illegally made from the rapidly disappearing hardwood trees in the park.

Mr. Serundori says he was never tempted, although his salary is only $35 a month.

“My culture is to respect the forest,” he said. He has even called the gorillas his “cousins.”

This past October, the fighting peaked. The Rwanda-backed rebels led by Mr. Nkunda smashed government troops and stormed army bases and the rangers’ headquarters. Mr. Serundori and hundreds of other rangers were instantly homeless. In November, he was stuck with his 10 children in a camp of plastic sheeting where cockroaches nibbled on his dwindling pile of food.

But after Mr. Nkunda’s surprise arrest in January, many of the rebels agreed to join government forces. The only sign these days of the once formidable rebel army in Virunga National Park is a trail of tin cans.

A new battle is raging in the jungle, though. The Kabirizi gorilla family has been trying to fight back the advances of the Humba gorilla family, and sometimes you can hear the screeches and hoots from miles away.

“It’s over the usual stuff,” Mr. Serundori explained. “Territory and females.”


Source: NY Times

Congo war-baby gorillas bring hope for endangered species

Posted by admin March 5th, 2009

By Denis Barnett, AFP

High above the war-battered plain, a giant silverback gorilla ruminatively strips a plant of its leaves with green tombstone teeth. Five females nearby suckle their babies. The world can celebrate a small miracle in eastern Congo.

Park rangers greeted the primordial scene with hushed astonishment after hacking for two hours though the verdant gloom of the jungle Friday, the only sound the metallic ring of a machete on stringy vines and the din of insects.

In a clearing on the slopes of Mount Mikeno, a 4,500 metre (14,000 feet) -high volcano, a young blackback carefully picked insects and seeds from his brother’s shaggy black fur. An impish new-born clung to her mother’s back, fixing the interlopers with shimmering dark brown eyes.

Park director Emmanuel de Merode later described the discovery of five new-borns at the outset of a month-long census as “quite phenomenal”, given that the endangered gorillas’ habitat has long been a war zone.

“They’ve had a growth of about 11 percent in 10 years, less than two percent a year. To get five births in a group of 30 is about 15 percent growth. It’s quite tremendous and very unusual,” he said.

The infants are all war-babies, born in the 15-month period since CNDP rebels wrested control of the eastern gorilla-sector of Virunga national park from government forces in September 2007. The rangers they chased away lost all contact with park, home to 200 of the world’s last 700 mountain gorillas.

De Merode, a government employee, pulled off a diplomatic coup this month when he negotiated directly with rebel leader Laurent Nkunda to allow his rangers to return to the park, and conservationists their first glimpse of the state of the endangered gorilla population here.

Friday’s discovery “doesn’t confirm anything about the population as a whole. That’s what we’re worried about and we’ll only know that when the survey is completed in about three weeks’ time,” cautioned De Merode, adding that only two of the seven family groups in the park had been located to date.

Each group takes its name from the dominant male, or silverback. In this case the 200 kilogramme Kabirisi provided the assembled humans with a jolt of adrenaline as he crashed through the thick undergrowth, screaming and agitated, perhaps jealous of the attention being doted on his females.

The brief demonstration of dominance over, serenity returned. The giant pot bellied ape resumed his Buddha-like position, brushing salami-like fingers over a face fixed in an imperious frown.

“Kabirisi tends to be stand-offish a little bit, and lets you know when he’s not happy,” whispered park employee Pierre Peron.

While the adults were detached and contemplative, the young were curious to reach out to their human visitors. One juvenile twice rapped a journalist playfully on the leg before disappearing into a thicket.

Many of the rangers remained with the CNDP in the forest and maintained the gorilla watch, but De Merode pointed out that only the returning Innocent Mburanumwe, whose father was also a ranger, could identify all the gorillas.

He and his green-uniformed comrades made respectful low grunting sounds as they moved through the group, identifying each individual by their noseprints — the wrinkles and marks on a gorilla’s nose unique to each individual.

De Merode said that despite appearances, the imperilled gorillas could not have been indifferent to the battles that have raged around them.

“They were right in the middle of the war. Bukima (the closest ranger post) was on the front line and the fighting moved back and forth in that area,” he said.

Eight gorillas were shot dead in the park last year. Kabirisi took over the group 10 years ago when the dominant male was killed by crossfire during fighting in 1998. Now it numbers around 30, but rangers will have to make repeated visits to each group to be sure.

Despite a ceasefire in the months-long fighting, tracer from a heavy machine gun streaked across the sky close to the rangers headquarters late Thursday. Answering gunfire rattled up from the valley, in what a ranger said was a clash between the CNDP and the Rwandan Hutu rebels based in the park.

Innocent and his comrades are happy to be back to offer their gorillas what protection they can.

“It’s been a long time since I’ve seen my gorillas. I’ve missed them,” he said, checking his notes and video before leading the group out of the forest and leaving the gorillas to their fragile peace.


Source: www.canada.com

Mountain Gorillas Birth 10 New Babies While War Wages in the Congo

Posted by admin February 4th, 2009

In an inspiring testament to the resiliency of life even amidst war and conflict, the Congo’s critically endangered population of Mountain Gorillas increased over the last 16 months, including 10 new births.

The new babies were part of an overall population increase of 12.5% in UNESCO-listed Virunga National Park, where habituated Mountain Gorilla numbers jumped from 72 to 81 since the region’s last census in 2007. The report brings hope to the troubled region, which has been wrought with bloodshed and political turmoil for decades.

But despite the encouraging news, serious threats still remain. In the months leading up to the last census, 10 of the Park’s apes were slaughtered by unidentified poachers during a violent insurgency. Some of the dead were discovered shot execution-style in the back of the head. It was the bloodiest year on record for the gorillas since famed primatologist Dian Fossey first began her efforts to save them in the 1960’s.

The region’s uncertain future and ongoing civil war means a perilous outlook for the new infants. Researchers found and removed 536 snares which had been laid by poachers in the Park, and hundreds more are likely to remain hidden. Although the Park is protected by over 1,100 rangers, 150 of them have been killed in the last 10 years fighting to protect gorillas throughout the Congo’s devastated, war torn parks.

There are 211 remaining Mountain Gorillas in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and only around 720 left worldwide. They are critically endangered, and their survival depends on the unpredictable outcome of political strife which continues to escalate in the region.


Source: Ecowordly.com

Congo park reports 10 gorillas born in 16 months

Posted by admin January 27th, 2009

The Congolese Wildlife Authority says the gorilla population has grown in an eastern Congo park that is home to some of the world’s last remaining mountain gorillas.

A census released Monday shows 10 baby gorillas have been born since August 2007 in Virunga National Park.

Park director Emmanuel de Merode calls the status of gorillas in Virunga “a triumph for conservation.”

Only about 700 mountain gorillas are left in the world, an estimated 190 of them in Congo around the Mikeno volcano.

In the months before insurgents first seized the area in 2007, 10 mountain gorillas were killed by unidentified attackers.

A deal between the insurgents and President Joseph Kabila’s administration late last year paved the way for staff who fled fighting and the rebel occupation to return.


Source: Associated Press

DR Congo gorilla numbers growing

Posted by admin January 27th, 2009

The population of threatened mountain gorillas in eastern DR Congo is now growing, local wildlife officials say.

According to a census carried out by rangers in the Virunga National Park, 10 baby gorillas have been born in the last 18 months.

The park population now stands at 81, and there are only 700 of mountain gorillas left in the world.

In 2007, 10 gorillas were killed when fighting between rebels and government soldiers spilled into the park.

The violence has made protecting gorillas a dangerous job.

The park’s director, Emmanuel de Merode, says 120 rangers have been killed since the conflict began, the last only two weeks ago.

Part of the reason why the rangers are so exposed to the dangers is because they continue their work whatever the situation.

Over much of that time, they have not received their salaries and they have received very little support, so it makes it a very difficult job.

Amazingly, the census reported no gorilla deaths. But the number of snares laid by poachers has increased significantly.

And groups who enter the park to cut down trees for the production of charcoal are another major threat. So despite the good news, the rangers’ work remains critical.


Source: BBC News

Fewer Mountain Gorillas Than Believed

Posted by admin January 23rd, 2009

Bad news from Uganda: the mountain gorilla population in the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is smaller than previously estimated. Until recently, environmentalists believed 336 gorillas resided in the park. Now it looks like the number has dropped to 302.

Why the change? The population numbers are usually collected by counting nests and examining the dung left outside each site. Every gorilla builds a nest and before leaving home in the morning, defecates outside. It seemed like a good way to count the animals with minimal human disturbance. But a new genetic method of counting yields different numbers. A team from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Liepzig, Germany tested DNA samples from each of the dung piles and found the number of gorillas dropped by ten percent.

“We assumed that each individual constructs a single nest, but genetic analysis shows that several individuals construct more than one nest,” says Katerina Guschanski, head of the German research team. Like lowland gorillas, the mountain variety will make new nests when the original becomes damaged by weather or will simply move on when the nest becomes uncomfortable.

Gorillas survive in only two places in the world: the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and the Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Population numbers from the Congo are not expected to change because the gorillas are accustomed to human contact and are counted directly.

Still, the news is discouraging. The mountain gorilla population may not be increasing like once believed. According to census data based on the old counting method, the population had grown from 300 in 1997 to 320 in 2003. However, the accuracy of the data is questionable. “Now we don’t really know what is happening with this population,” says Guschanski. “Probably the safest thing is to assume that the population is stable, but we will need to wait for another four to five years to assess how it is changing.”


Source: /www.popsci.com

DNA tests suggest mountain gorilla population ‘shrunk’

Posted by admin January 22nd, 2009

Experts could have to scale back their estimates of how many mountain gorillas are left in the wild after a new survey cut numbers in one of their main habitats.

Only around 700 of the gorillas still live in the wild after years of uncontrolled hunting, destruction of their forest habitat and illegal capture as pets.

Traditionally researchers have estimated the species population by counting the number of ‘nests’ which the animals build.

According to this method, there are 336 gorillas left in the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda.

However, DNA tests on the animals’ dung show that counting nests could be inaccurate and that there are far fewer mountain gorillas in the park than previously thought.

The scientists found just 302 separate genetic codes, suggesting that some of the animals create more than one nest, the findings, reported in New Scientist magazine, show.

Katerina Guschanski, from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Liepzig, Germany, who led the new study, said: “We assumed that each individual constructs a single nest, but genetic analysis shows that several individuals construct more than one nest.”

Previous studies of other species of gorilla have shown that they can build more than one nest if the original develops problems, such as leaking.

Conservationists had previously thought that the number of mountains gorillas in the Bwindi national park, one of only two places in the world where gorillas still live in the wild, had been growing.

There were just 300 of the animals left in 1997 but a census in 2003 found 320.

“Now we don’t really know what is happening with this population,” said Guschanski. “Probably the safest thing is to assume that the population is stable, but we will need to wait for another four to five years to assess how it is changing.”

Researchers believe that only an accurate idea of population numbers can help prevent the species from becoming extinct.

“It is much better to have an accurate estimation of the population”, said James Burton from the Earthwatch Institute in Oxford.

“Knowing whether it is increasing or decreasing governs the conservation activities.”

The other main habitat for the gorillas is Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo, thought to contain an estimated 380 animals.

Scientists believe that this figure could be more accurate as the gorillas there are more accustomed to human contact and scientists have been able to get closer to count numbers.

The mountain gorilla belongs to the Eastern Gorilla family, of which there are around 16,000 in the world.

The other family, Western Gorilla, has around 350,000 members, but both are considered endangered.


Source: Telegraph.co.uk

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