In the early 20th Century, collectors and hunters from the United States of America and Europe began to capture and kill the mountain gorillas and within 25 years ago over 50 gorillas were taken as trophies. Akeley Carl of the American Museum of Natural history shot five gorillas in 1921, but was so impressed with the gorillas and he convinced the Belgian government whereby during that time he ruled out that Congo should establish Africa’s first national park for the gorillas in 1925.
Creation of Gorilla Parks
After the discovery of mountain gorillas over two decades by Europeans, it prompted the government of Belgian government to create the Albertine National Park in 1925 which is now the Virunga Conservation Park.
The population of mountain gorillas in this park was stable until 1960 when a census was undertaken by George Schaller indicated that about 450 individuals in the range and by 1971, the population of mountain gorillas had fallen to an estimate of 250. Eco-tourism has been encouraged as a way to conserve mountain gorillas however, despite the success of eco-tourism there are still various threats to the ongoing survival of mountain gorillas in the wild. The Rwandan conflicts for instance had several repercussions in the Virunga Massif.
These great apes were partially protected until the 1960’s, a time when the civil war broke out and the park protection disappeared to capture animal food and gorillas were then caught in the snares. They were also killed intentionally for their meat and parts; gorilla hands and heads were sold as souvenirs. They also lost large amounts of habitat to agriculture and in the countries they live have got some of the highest human population densities in the world. The mountain gorillas live in islands of mountain habitat in a sea of human settlement and it is a surprising sight to see terraced fields climbing right to the border of the gorillas’ park high up the mountain.
During the reign of an American zoologist known throughout the world from the movie “The Gorillas in the mist” was credited with the very first successful ant poaching efforts in the gorillas’ park and by the beginning of 1963, together with her staff, she regularly patrolled the forest and removed the snares set to capture antelopes and other animals. Though the mountain gorillas were not the poachers main targets, snares often trapped them and they lost a food and hand infection. Her efforts were too successful for her own personal safety and during her rain, she made ultimate sacrifice 20 years after her work began, unfortunately she was murdered in 1985 by poachers.
In the late 1970’s a new gorilla conservation began during a time when the international consortium of conservation organizations were established the so called Mountain Gorilla Project which aimed at bringing the gorilla tourism to the area and educate Rwandans about the great apes and the success of this program vividly demonstrated how much group of dedicated the individuals can accomplish. They were then placed under critically controlled groups which enabled tourists to view them at a close range and this made gorilla tourism successful and their reached a time when the viewing of gorillas was Rwanda’s third largest earner of foreign exchange currency. These same programs were also vested in Uganda and Congo sides in the areas were these gorillas lived.
Unluckily, the civil war broke out in the Rwanda in early 1990’s and unfortunately the war did not discriminate gorilla populations. It brought halt to gorilla tourism, cutting off the flow of much- needed foreign exchange but a few of the gorillas brutally killed during the civil war. Most of the researchers and guards remained in the park at great personal risk and were determined to protect the gorillas until they were forced to leave though some have returned to the park the park. Their future however depends on whether a stable state can be restored and maintained in Rwanda and whether the country can house and feed its refugees when the park is not destroyed.
In the recent years, the world has got to know how important is to conservation these wonderful primates and organizations and the government of countries where the gorillas are found have come out to combat the problem of gorillas getting extinct as conservation efforts have been made.
All the gorilla species are regarded as endangered animals by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) due to the fact that all species of gorillas are prone to declination as the natural environment they live in are difficult to monitor and also protect the gorillas thus making the conservation and preservation method hard to put in place.
Mountain Gorilla Conservation
Nevertheless several government and international organization has fought tooth and nail to ensure that these gorillas are conserved and there has been an increase in some species of the gorillas for instance the mountain gorillas have been increasing in population as per now they are around 1060 mountain gorillas in the world opposed to the past decades where there were less than 600 mountain gorillas left in the world.
Special thanks to the government of Rwanda and also some international organizations like Gorilla Doctors, International Gorilla Conservation Programme, Diana Fossey Gorilla Fund International and Friend a Gorilla.
Threats to Gorillas
In the wild gorilla do not have serious predators other than the leopards which occasionally attacks the helpless young ones but gorillas’ worst threat is man and his activities. In the past decade the drastic decline in the gorilla population has been greatly affected by disease, poaching and loss of habitats due to man’s activities like charcoal burning, settlement and also the civil wars that are carried out within the tropical rainforests in the central region.
Threats – Who are Gorillas Enemies? Are Gorillas Predators? How do gorillas protect themselves?
Silverback gorillas were not even known to exist until 1902.Today, their habitat is being destroyed when people use the land for farming and the trees for fuel. Gorillas are also killed by poachers and sometimes get caught in poacher’s snares meant for other animals. The Silverback Gorilla is the most endangered species of Gorilla.
The greatest threat to Mountain Gorillas is the encroachment of growing villages around them. There had been a slash and burn mentality and it was hard to see how large tracks of land should be left for Gorillas, it is through an educational process by the ORTPN and revenue sharing incentives to the community through tourism that the gorillas in Uganda are not as threatened by poachers as they might be in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
They are also threatened by diseases that humans may bring to the park that is why strict rules are put in place to prevent the spreading of disease from humans to Mountain Gorillas.
For reasons unknown, mountain gorillas that have been studied appear to be naturally afraid of certain reptiles. Infants, whose natural behavior is to chase anything that moves, will go out of their way to avoid chameleons and caterpillars. Koko, the western lowland female gorilla trained in sign language, is able to understand more than 1,000 signs based on American Sign Language, and understand approximately 2,000 words of spoken English, is afraid of crocodiles and alligators, even though she was born in captivity and has never seen them. They are also afraid of water and will cross streams only if they can do so without getting wet. Dian Fossey observed and noted the Mountain Gorilla’s obvious dislike of rain, as well.
There are several organizations that work around protecting the mountain gorillas. There are a number of excellent organizations you can contribute to that are doing an excellent job of monitoring and helping to rectify the precarious situation the gorillas and the other great apes of the world are currently in. Below is a list of some of these organizations.
The Gorilla Organization
The Gorilla Organization has worked for more than two decades to save the world’s last remaining gorillas in the wild. Our field staff in Rwanda, Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo not only support rangers, but also provide economic development and education projects to the villages nearby; giving people the opportunity to earn a sustainable income without having to rely on the natural resources of the forest where the gorillas live. This community-based conservation approach puts the Gorilla Organization at the forefront of gorilla conservation.
The Gorilla Organization is a UK Registered Charity and a member of Fundraising Standards Board (FRSB) – committed to the highest standards of good practice and work to ensure our fundraising activities are open, legal and fair.
Organizations Involved With The Preservation of Gorillas and the Other Great Apes
Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund
Originally founded in 1978 by Dian Fossey as The Digit Fund (following the untimely death of her favorite gorilla, Digit) The Fund was later renamed The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund (DFGF) in 1992. Ever since its inception and after the still as yet unsolved murder of Dian Fossey this premier gorilla conservation organization has been working double time to ensure the gorillas have some form of sustainable future.
Bushmeat Crisis Task Force
The BCTF, founded in 1999, is a consortium of conservation organizations and scientists dedicated to the conservation of wildlife populations threatened by commercial hunting of wildlife for sale as meat.
Mountain Gorilla & Rainforest Direct Aid
Also known as Berggorilla & Regenwald Direkthilfe, this organisation has been involved with gorilla conservation since 1984. They are an excellent resource for what’s going on in the gorilla-conservation world and actually provide online access to articles and reports compiled from previous years’ conservation efforts.
The conservation has been done through tourism as the local people around and world at large have been engaged in this. Thousands of people come to Africa to meet the gorillas in their natural environment and the money got from visiting the gorillas is used to treat, protect and mobilise the gorillas in their protected areas thus conserving.
Also the local people have been aware of how the gorillas are important in their livelihood as they have earned income from gorilla tourism as they act as guides, also sell curious to the tourists and also the funds got from the gorilla trekking are used to build schools, roads, hospitals and other social services to the local communities.
The benefits derived from gorilla tourism do extend much further for the activity and now forms the foundation of Uganda’s national tourist industry where the majority of the people who come to the pearl of Africa to see the mountain gorillas do spend money in other parts of the country there by generating foreign revenue and creating employment well beyond the immediate vicinity of the mountain gorilla reserves and this result is a symbolic situation whereby a far greater number of people, nationally and internationally are very much motivated to take an active interest in the protection of the gorillas than would otherwise be the case.