New census proves critical for mountain gorillas

A new census of mountain gorillas in the Virunga Massif in Africa could prove critical for the endangered great ape. The count will gauge the impact of conservation work and guide efforts to safeguard mountain gorillas and their fragile and restricted habitat.

The last count in 2010 estimated that there were 480 mountain gorillas in the Virunga Massif. The new census, which is being led by the Greater Virunga Transboundary Collaboration and supported by Fauna & Flora International (FFI) and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) through the International Gorilla Conservation Programme (IGCP) and other partners, will cover the area spanning the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Uganda.

The site is one of just two places where this gorilla subspecies is still found.

IGCP director Anna Behm Masozera said: “Mountain gorilla numbers have been rising steadily in the Virunga Massif for the past two decades thanks to the dedicated work of rangers, conservationists and neighbouring community members, and collaborative efforts by the three range States. We are hopeful that the census will confirm that this trend is continuing, despite ongoing threats to the gorillas and their habitat.”

Six teams have begun systematically looking for signs of mountain gorillas, recording mountain gorilla nest sites, and collecting faecal samples to be used for genetic analyses.

Behm Masozera explained that the census was not based on actual sightings of every gorilla, but would instead rely on a combination of fieldwork and lab work to interpret the information and samples collected.

The census, which is anticipated to be the most accurate to date, will build on recent advancements in science and technology. It will focus on the need to preserve mountain gorillas and their habitat, which supports the livelihoods of communities in all three countries.

A final population estimate is expected to be released in 2017. Beyond the population number, the count will also provide information on demographics (age and sex ratio) within the Virunga Massif gorilla population, and the location of groups in relation to each other within the transboundary protected area.

The Virunga Massif, which comprises the Mikeno Sector of Virunga National Park, Volcanoes National Park (Rwanda) and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park (Uganda), is home to around half of the world’s mountain gorillas, which number an estimated 880 individuals globally.

Photo credit: Joachim Huber/ CC BY-SA 2.0

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