Top challenges facing the mountain gorillas (in Uganda, Rwanda & Congo)

Gorillas found killed in Virunga National Park in DR Congo. Photo copyright: ALTOR IGCP GOMA/AP

The Mountain Gorillas are one of the 4 subspecies of the gorillas that exist in the world. The other three being the Western Lowland, Cross River, and Grauer’s gorillas. All are found on the African continent

The mountain gorillas, famous for gorilla trekking tours, are found in the Virunga mountains (shared between Uganda, Rwanda & Democratic Republic of Congo) and Bwindi montane forest (in Uganda). A few decades ago, the mountain gorillas were on the way to extinction with less than 600 individuals left. But it is because of the increased awareness and conservation efforts (championed by Dian Fossey in the 1980s) that there has been a turnaround from extinction to growing numbers and currently there are more than 1000+ mountain gorillas. At the moment the mountain gorilla population is growing at 4% per year.

According to the Gorilla Doctors, an organization engaged in the conservation of the gorillas gives the following as the top challenges facing the mountains gorillas (human caused).

  • Loss of habitat

This is one the biggest challenges of the gorillas. With a spike in the population of humans, pressure has been exerted on the habitats of the gorillas as people have cleared vast forests and lands to settle and grow crops.

It is surprising to learn that the two mountain gorilla homes Bwindi forest and the Virunga mountains were once a continuous jungle but the humans erased the forests until Bwindi forest was left isolated.

  • Human – gorilla conflict

Due to the diminished gorilla habitat, the gorillas tend to go beyond their jungle into the neighboring farmlands and communities looking food in period of scarcity in the forest. This causes friction with the people and gorillas are hurt or fall into the hands of wildlife traffickers.

  • Poaching and bush meat trade

Poachers set up snares in the gorilla parks targeting other animals such as antelopes but gorillas all in these traps leading to serious injuries and even death to the gorillas.

While Ugandan and Rwandans do not eat primate meat, however Congolese tribes neighboring the Virunga mountains do have primates on their menu and gorillas are therefore hunted for meat.

  • Emerging diseases and treatment of the wild

Gorillas and humans share 98.4% DNA, hence these species can catch the same diseases. As gorillas have been getting closer to humans the risk of gorillas being infect by new diseases has increased. Recently gorillas have been found to suffer from known human diseases. For instance the Nkuringo gorilla family in Bwindi National Park was found to suffer from scabies that was traced back to a human family near the park.

Gorilla tourism has also increased the risk spreading diseases from the rangers habituating the gorillas or the tourists during the gorilla tracking.

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