Conservation Biology

Monday, March 19, 2007

MOUNTAIN GORILLAS AND THREATS THEY FACED

Virunga volcano region is located in mountain forest which is stretches through Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Virunga is the conservation area and home of mountain gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei). The word Virunga is the Swahili name that mean volcano. Mountain gorillas feed on leaves, flowers, bark, bulbs, stems, and fruits of the plants (1). Mountain gorillas are the largest of the great apes that share the common ancestor with human (2). Human and gorillas share 98 percent of genome (genetically identical) (3). Gorillas also use leaves and branches to build their nests. Mountain gorillas were listed as one of the most endangered species in the world and approximate 655 gorillas are thought to be found in Virunga volcano Region (4).

Mountain gorillas were classified as an endangered species due to human encroachment. Forest clearance and degradation due to growth of human population threatened the Gorilla beringei beringei. People cut down the forest for infrastructure development, constructions, cut down the trees for firewood, livestock grazing and agricultural purposes. Mountain gorillas lost their habitat because of the above impacts (5). Mountain gorillas were also hunted and killed and their parts such as hands, heads were sells to the tourists. On going threatened to Gorilla beringei beringei include diseases such as ebola virus and polio. Ebola virus killed gorillas in Odzala National Park (DRC) and the scientists are fear that the virus could infect the remaining species within next five years (6).

Scientists estimated that approximately 5,000 of gorillas were killed in central Africa by bola virus (7). Scientists say that they will use natural barriers to stop the spread of virus and they hope that they will find the cure of this virus. They also think that taking healthy gorillas away from the virus zone will save many lives (6). Poachers trapped and killed mountain gorillas using the snares for their survival (5). The war between government security forces, rebels, and militia threatened the mountain gorillas in Virunga area (4). Rebels and militias in Virunga National Park invaded and killed gorillas for the meat. During the fight, rebels killed about 97 government security forces (rangers) in 1996. Killed rangers were trying to stop non –official armed (rebels and militia) from killing the gorillas and cutting down the forest. Congo conservationists fear that rebels and militias will butcher the remaining mountain gorillas because they are at risk (8).

Although the Gorilla beringei beringei are heavily protected in Virunga Park, the scientists also believe that their future remains uncertain. Scientists also encourage the communities to slow down the commercial bush meat and dedicate their lives to protect endangered species. Monitoring further research about mountain gorillas is necessary because peoples still had taboos against eating gorillas. Therefore, people are also encouraged to buy certified wood from the logging companies that have certificates to support illegal bush meat hunting. Although mountain gorillas population seems to have increased by 17% in 2003 by scientists since 1989 after the launch of mountain gorilla project (9, 10), it does not mean that they are no longer endangered.

I am concluding by saying that mountain gorillas are still in critical endangered as World Conservation Union (IUCN) Red list of endangered species indicated. Mountain gorillas and their habitat need protection. Local people need education about the ecological as well as economical values of unique heritages because “the bush meat crisis is the complex problem involving politics, economics, logging, population, culture, ethics, and imbalanced interactions between the developing and developed world”(9), so an awareness education is really needed to save an endangered mountain gorillas. The best way is to support any conservation effort. African Wildlife Foundation program hope that mountain gorillas can be saved if people adopt them. So people who will adopt the gorillas, they will show that they support the recovery effort of Gorilla beringei beringei. In addition, a bush meat project has been established to support companies that will help the people around Virunga conservation area to protect endangered species and its natural habitat. If you are interest to view the image of Virunga Conservation area, I have linked the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) site (11).

References:

1. Taylor H. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.2000. [Online]. [Cited 2007 March 8]. Available from: http://www.iucnredlist.org/search/details.php/39994/all

2. Anonymous. “Endangered mountain gorillas.” 2005. [Online]. [Cited 2007 March 12]. Available from:
http://www.africanconservation.org/dcforum/DCForumID5/247.html

3.Anonymous. Mountain Gorillas. [Online]. [Cited 2007 March 19]. Available from:
http://www.awf.org/content/action/detail/3602
4. Rutagarama E. “A Conservation Triumph: The Mountain Gorillas of Rwanda”.2004 [Online]. [Cited 2004 May 12]. Available from:
http://www.africanconservation.org/dcforum/DCForumID5/205.html

5. Anonymous. Mammals: Gorillas.2007 [Online]. [Cited 2007 March 12]. Available from: http://www.sandiegozoo.org/animalbytes/t-gorilla.html

6. Owen J. Ebola Flares in Western Gorilla, Chimp stronghold. 2005. [Online]. [Cited 2007 March 12]. Available from:
http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2005/04/0404_050404_ebolagorilla.html

7. Wikipedia contributors. Gorilla. The free encyclopedia.2007. [Online]. [Cited 2007 March 12]. Available from:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gorilla#Gorillas_in_pop_culture

8. Reed J. Rebels kill, eat endangered mountain gorillas. 2007. [Online]. [Cited 2007 March 8]. Available from:
http://www.mail-archive.com/helptheanimals@yahoogroups.com/msg01063.html

9. Walker R. Mountain Gorillas escape poachers. 2004. [Online]. [Cited 2007 March 12]. Available from: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/3407831.stm

10. Bowman K, Rose A. The Gorilla Crisis Wildlife Values Education Project Enhancing Attitudes Toward Conservation. 2007 [Online]. [Cited 2007 March 14]. Available from: http://www.great-apes.com/papers/gcwv.htm

11. National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Gorillas in the Midst of Extinction.2006 [Online]. [Cited 2006 March 2007]. Available from:
http://www.nasa.gov/vision/earth/lookingatearth/gorillas.html


Lizzy Masingita Maluleke
CSIR PTA
NISL- Ecological Informatics
P O Box 395
Pretoria
0001
E-mail mmaluleke@csir.co.za
Weblog: http://mmaluleke.blogspot.com

15 Comments:

  • Hi Lizzy

    well presented article, I really enjoyed reading your work.

    It is very important to conserve the mountain gorillas habitats because will be conserving them in a way. The problem might be that people make money out of the wood they cut from the forest.

    They sound to be the most dangerous species, killing 97 rangers in 1996, if they were not faced with extinction, how many rangers will be killed by now?
    But I am not saying that they should go extinct, I am just wondering.

    By Blogger Maleka Evelyn, at March 19, 2007 3:33 PM  

  • Hi Lizzy

    It is very surprising that there are people who kill and eat the gorilla beringei beringei whereas it is 98% identical to human. Being 98%m percent identical we can agree that the gorillas are our ancestors. To me it is unacceptable for human to kill and eat this species since the relationship is very high. Another surprising issue is the fact that the some tourists buy the body parts of these species. If the tourist are promoting people to hunt and kill these species (by buying body parts); it will be a negative effects on tourism industry.

    I suggest that another management strategy is to deal with the tourists who buy the body parts of these species (gorilla beringei beringei).

    cheers

    By Blogger Lufuno, at March 19, 2007 4:18 PM  

  • Hi Lizy

    I was not aware that, some people eat Gorillas. As you have indicated that mountain Gorillas are primarly threatened by poaching, habitat destruction by clearing the forest which led to land degradation.

    Did you know that, African Wildlife Foundation (AWF), in collaboration with Fauna & Flora International (FFI) and World Wildlife Fund (WWF), established the International Gorilla conservation Program (IGCP) that will protect the last remaining mountain Gorillas around the world?

    Ok Lizy, According to me I think that issues of conserving these species will work as the IGCP is focusing on the conservation the habitat of Gorillas through regional collaboration. The only thing that I like from the IGCP is that they did their research working on dynamic between the natural habitat of Gorillas and the human population. They are working with local communities to come with the strategies to conserves the remaining Gorillas. They also said that, there is a great success of this programme but they still need greater support to other people.

    By Blogger linette, at March 19, 2007 5:00 PM  

  • This comment has been removed by the author.

    By Blogger Kedibone, at March 23, 2007 8:44 AM  

  • This comment has been removed by the author.

    By Blogger Kedibone, at March 23, 2007 8:45 AM  

  • Good article.

    Mountain gorillas also faced threat such as accidental entrapment in wire snares used to trap other wild animals. According to (Plumptre 1997) the setting of snares for ungulates in the Volcans National Park, Rwanda is one of the greatest threats to Gorilla beringei beringei.

    The isolation and low numbers of mountain gorilla populations have given rise to concerns about inbreeding because the mitochondrial DNA of the Virunga and the Bwindi mountain gorillas exhibited low variability. (Garner 1996).

    International trade in live gorillas and gorilla parts, which used to be a threat, has decline since the gorilla was listed in Appendix I of CITES (IRSNB 2007

    By Blogger Kedibone, at March 23, 2007 8:57 AM  

  • This comment has been removed by the author.

    By Blogger peter, at March 28, 2007 10:08 AM  

  • lizzy

    Indeed is cruel practice (killing) to Apes society. population of mountain Gorillas has been studied for more than 40 years and monitored since the 1970s. A data show a decline through the 70s and 80s, with most reduction occuring in the Uganda, DRC and Rwanda sections.The killing of mountains Gorillas occured as a direct result of the military activities.

    There are large number of international, national and local Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs)which are involved in various gorilla and apes action plans, conservatin initiatives and programmes, which deals with the range of issues. Yes indeed mountain gorillas are facing threat of extinction.

    By Blogger pnkoana, at April 10, 2007 9:45 AM  

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