Natalie has a keen interest in conservation and writes about endangered species to raise awareness.
An Introduction to Mountain Gorillas
Mountain gorillas were discovered in 1902, and are one of the two species of eastern gorilla, the other being the eastern lowland gorilla. Both are classified as critically endangered, but with a population of only 880 recorded in 2016 the mountain gorilla is considered to be most at risk.
These gorillas live in forests in the mountains, where temperatures are often below freezing. They have thick fur to help them to survive these conditions, but as humans have encroached upon their territory, they have been forced further up the mountains where they endure more dangerous conditions.
They are herbivores, with a diet consisting of more than 100 species of plant. When fully grown, they can measure more than 5ft when standing and weigh 440lbs.
Mountain gorillas are social creatures who develop long-term bonds. They live in groups which include a dominant male, who will defend them from external threats.
Threats Facing Mountain Gorillas
There are various threats to the mountain gorillas, most of which are due to humans in one way or another.
A recent example of this was the threat of oil exploration in Virunga National Park. Following a successful campaign by WWF, it was announced by the company involved that it would stop all operations there. However, there is still the possibility that other companies may pursue oil exploration in the area.
This is just one example of the issues facing the mountain gorillas. There are also several ongoing threats which conservationists are aiming to resolve.
One of the main threats to mountain gorillas is habitat loss. Humans have moved to areas near the gorillas and some of the forest areas have been cleared. The land is being used for agriculture and livestock, as humans in the region struggle to make a living. Although some of the areas inhabited by mountain gorillas are protected, the forests are not always safe from clearance. In 2004 around 3,700 acres of the Virunga National Park was cleared by illegal settlers.
Human encroachment also brings the issue of disease. Gorillas are vulnerable to many of the same illnesses as humans, but they may experience them more severely. Even the common cold can be dangerous to gorillas.
Although it is unusual for gorillas to be directly targeted by poachers for food, they are still at risk due to unselective hunting. Snares used to catch animals such as antelope can cause serious harm to gorillas.
Poaching for the live animal trade is a significant threat for gorillas. In 2013 a young mountain gorilla was found in Virunga National Park, and it was apparent that it had been held captive and abandoned. There have been several other incidents of poaching in the mountain gorilla range in recent years.
During the early 1990s, the wars in Rwanda and The Democratic Republic of Congo caused refugees to move to the areas surrounding Virunga National Park. This has led to the destruction of their habitat. Areas of the park have been taken over by rebels, which poses a threat to those carrying out conservation work. Conflict in the region has an impact on both the people and the wildlife in the area, including the mountain gorillas.
Solutions for the Mountain Gorillas
Although there have been years of civil unrest in the region, there has been some success in the conservation of mountain gorillas. There were 620 left in 1989, but this number was increased to 880 by 2016.
Various measures are in place to protect the remaining mountain gorillas.
Saving the Forests
Charities such as WWF are working with governments and timber companies in the area to promote good environmental practices when it comes to logging. Other initiatives include reforestation projects, promoting sustainable livelihoods and raising environmental awareness.
Anti-poaching rangers patrol Virunga National Park, which has led to arrests and a decline in poaching. The unrest in the area makes this an incredibly dangerous job, and 140 rangers have been killed since 1996.
Involving the Local Community
Those who live in the area depend on natural resources and wildlife tourism, so it is in the interests of the local community to protect the gorillas. Community owned tourist lodges have been built in the area, providing employment and financial benefits. This also offers visitors a great opportunity to experience the local wildlife, as well as raising awareness of the conservation work.
How to Help
There are many ways that we can help, such as adopting a gorilla, making a donation to one of the many charities working to save them or even visiting one of the tourist lodges to see them in their natural habitat.
Although there are only 880 mountain gorillas left, conservation efforts do appear to be working. At one point it was thought that they may become extinct by the end of the 20th century, but thanks to conservation their numbers have been increased. The recovery of the mountain gorillas is in progress, but ongoing efforts are needed to ensure that this continues.
African Wildlife Foundation - http://www.awf.org/
International Gorilla Conservation Programme (IGCP) - http://igcp.org/
© 2017 Natalie Cookson