Whilst there is still more work to be done, the first phases of the comprehensive 2018 Mountain Gorilla Census are now complete, with hugely encouraging interim results being announced.
The total wild population of mountain gorillas is now confirmed at more than 1,000 and this suggests that they are the only great ape species to be increasing in number.
The endangered species lives in just two locations – Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda and the Virunga Massif (an area which incorporates Uganda’s Mgahinga NP; the Volcanoes NP in Rwanda and the Mikeno sector of the Virunga NP in the Democratic Republic of Congo). The total wild population of mountain gorillas is now confirmed at more than 1,000 and this suggests that they are the only great ape species to be increasing in number.
The endangered species lives in just two locations – Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda and the Virunga Massif (an area which incorporates Uganda’s Mgahinga NP; the Volcanoes NP in Rwanda and the Mikeno sector of the Virunga NP in the Democratic Republic of Congo).
There are more than 100 people from 13 different institutions and organisations across the region directly involved in the census, with the support of many more porters from neighbouring communities. Monitoring these numbers is more than merely headcounting. Census teams have systematically swept through the forest, following gorilla trails, counting night nests, and collecting samples of droppings. The latter are preserved so that they can be analysed for host DNA to give an accurate count of the number of individual gorillas in the population. Samples have also been preserved so that Gorilla Doctors and collaborators can study the gorilla gastrointestinal microbiome, and to study the genetics of parasites in gorillas.
Researchers have not only been analysing the status of the population, but also assessing the impact of threats and evaluating the effectiveness of conservation strategies. The latest survey of the gorillas involved two entire ‘sweeps’ of the strenuous forest terrain, in a technique known as "capture-mark-recapture." By comparing the gorillas that were identified in the first sweep with those that were found in the second sweep, experienced researches can get an understanding of the number of gorillas that were missed in the initial investigation. They then use this important information to get a more accurate estimate.
The census of mountain gorillas in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda is progressing very well despite heavy rains. It started on 12th March and they have now completed two 2-week phases, with teams covering over 127 km2 of forest, and they are well into the 3rd phase. There are least two more phases planned, according to Anna Behm Masozera, Director at the IGCP.
She added,"It’s a long process and it’s a hard job for the field teams – but with results which help us better understand mountain gorillas and what we need to do to continue to protect them for many generations to come, its so worthwhile." In order to get robust data for the entire population, they will repeat the process again in September 2018, with the final official results expected in late 2019 or early 2020, allowing time for the lab analyses of all the samples collected. But for now, these figures are extremely encouraging. Gorilla tourism began in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in 1993 and this year marks the 25th year of this incredible experience. The current number of fully habituated gorilla families in Uganda is fourteen (Bwindi 13 / Mhagahinga 1) with one further family semi-habituated in Bwindi. Bwindi incorporates Buhoma, Ruhiga and Nkuringo sectors. Mountain gorillas have survived in Uganda, largely due to conservation efforts. Their habitat has been protected and managed by UWA who have also supported local communities living in the region with better healthcare, education, sanitation and employment opportunities, all aided by tourism.
"We’re getting better and better at estimating mountain gorilla population numbers. That’s a good thing, but it complicates our ability to compare the most recent survey results with previous counts" stated Cath Lawson, the Regional Manager for East Africa at WWF and the International Gorilla Conservation Programme (IGCP).