Calling on Mountain Gorillas

Lisa Poppleton February 1, 2013 0
Silverback Mountain Gorilla

A “silverback” male mountain gorilla. Photo: D. Proffer/Wikimedia Commons

The Uganda Minister for Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities, with the support of The Wildlife Conservation Society, recently checked in with the mountain gorilla population in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and found the primates doing well.  A census conducted through nest counting and the genetic analysis of fecal matter discovered their numbers up 33% to an estimated 400 individuals compared to the 2006 survey of 302.

Combining this count with the estimated mountain gorilla population in the Virunga Volcanoes area brings the total global population of this species to around 880.  Despite this encouraging increase, mountain gorillas are still rated as Critically Endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, a ranking that positions them one step away from Extinct in the Wild.  Attempts to raise mountain gorillas in captivity have not been successful.

Bwindi Impenetrable National Park

Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Photo: Flickr / Tajai

Bwindi Impenetrable National Park covers 128 square miles of jungle that is accessible only by foot.  Its dense, complex forests harbor not only 120 species of mammals, but over 350 species of birds and 200 species of butterflies.  Its elevations of 4000’ to 8500’ provide a wide range of vegetation zones for the gorillas, who forage widely based on the season.

Several mountain gorilla groups within the park have habituated to humans, that is, they exhibit normal behavior in the presence of human observers.   Each group is overseen by a dominant adult male silverback, which lives in a long-term relationship with female members of the group.  Although of imposing size (males can stand as high as 6’4’’ and have an arm span of over 7’), the gorillas are generally gentle.   To minimize the risk of disease transmission, human visitors are kept at a distance of at least seven meters from the primates.

The main source of revenue for maintaining and improving the mountain gorilla’s habitat in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park derives from ecotourism – namely gorilla safaris.  This funding enables the park to conduct surveys of flora and fauna, and safeguard habitat through ranger patrols and law enforcement.   Education and engagement of the neighboring human communities by the government and conservation organizations further improves the outlook for the mountain gorilla’s survival and rebounding population.

Don’t let the park’s name deter:  our Great African Primate Expedition invites you to spend three days in the misty and “impenetrable” home of the mountain gorilla.  Consider it a standing invitation extended on behalf of these shy apes.

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