Sunday, July 8, 2018

Good news for mountain gorillas


If Dian Fossey, the popular zoologist author of the book "Gorillas in the Mist" was alive, surely today would have many reasons to be happy. And, according to the data of the last census, the population of mountain gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei) has doubled in the last three decades.



"This is one of those very rare conservation news," explains Martha Robbins, an expert gorilla researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. "Despite the poaching, the degradation of their habitat and the civil war, the population of gorillas in the Virunga mountains has doubled."

To estimate the number of individuals of this endangered species, a field campaign was conducted between 2015 and 2016. The teams kicked more than 2,000 kilometers through the Virunga Mountains looking for tracks and other signs of the presence of gorillas. In addition, genetic analyzes were made that took more than 18 months to complete and studied more than a thousand fecal samples, determining that there are at least 186 gorillas not used to human contact. The researchers estimate that the current total population of mountain gorillas in the Virunga volcanoes surpasses the six hundred specimens that would be distributed in 41 social groups, and 14 of them would be solitary males. To this figure we must add the approximately 400 individuals that live in the Impenetrable National Park of Bwindi, in Uganda, for which we speak of a total of more than 1,000 gorillas.


More accurate census methods

The last census had been made in 2010 and estimated a population of 480 gorillas. The current figure represents an increase of 26% in a period of only six years, which means an annual growth rate of 3.8%. Although it is true that the study methods are now much more precise, so it is possible that in previous censuses had estimated "down", the truth is that there has been real growth in the population, as reported by the Max Institute Planck.

"The genetic analysis of fecal samples allows us to count gorillas without having to observe them," explains Linda Vigilant, director of the genetics laboratory specializing in primatology in Leipzig. "It will also allow us to obtain more information about how social groups are formed and the changes that occur in them over time."



"This result is the result of the efforts made by the governments of Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to keep the great apes in danger of extinction and, in particular, the hard work of the staff working in the field," says Robbins . "The spectacular increase in the population of gorillas shows that the efforts made in terms of sustainable tourism, veterinary work and community projects can have a positive impact on one of our closest living relatives."

Much remains to be done in the Virunga mountains, for example, to improve the security of forest agents and tourists. Only in the last ten months have twelve workers been killed in the park, and in the last incident two British tourists were abducted. Due to this, the Virunga National Park is currently closed to the public to improve its security protocols and, according to The Guardian, will not open its doors until next year.

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