In 1959, John Emlen and George Schaller assessed the distribution of eastern gorillas for the first time. Since then, few attempts were made to characterize these populations. In 1991, WCS (in collaboration with ICCN, BRD and other organizations) began a systematic effort to identify all populations of Grauer's gorilla and evaluate their status.
We identified 11 populations of Grauer's gorilla (Gorilla gorilla graueri) across its 90,000 km2 range and estimate the total population to be approximately 16,900 individuals. The gorillas found in the Kahuzi-Biega National Park lowland area and the Kasese region represent 86% of the subspecies's total population. The mountain and lowland populations of Kahuzi-Biega are not in reproductive contact but effectively severed.
In the mountain sector at least one individual in each of the tourist groups has lost a hand to snares; this underscores the precarious status of the subspecies. Gorillas were no longer present in some of the regions noted by Emlen and Schaller. There have been reports that many gorillas were killed in the chaos after the civil war. In the lowland sector Grauer's gorillas are also no longer as widely distributed as they were during the time of Emlen and Schaller. Reports indicate heavy hunting of gorillas within the Kasese region.
In the Maiko National Park, the westernmost population is extinct. The northern population has been relatively stable in recent years, and the southern population suffers from poaching and habitat pressure. North of the Lowa river an additional population has recently been confirmed. It is at risk because of its small size and isolation.
The 9 subpopulations in the Itombwe Forest can be pooled into 4 populations that are reproductively isolated from one another by large rivers. There are several small and isolated populations in the North Kivu region. Reports indicate that the Masisi population has recently been eliminated. Until a more complete investigation can be undertaken, the number and location of different populations will remain unknown.
The Kivu region has one of the highest human population densities in central Africa. A series of reports has documented the threats to Grauer's gorilla posed by hunting and forest conversion; today the most significant threat is the burgeoning human population's increasing need for land. Outside protected areas, people clear forest and eliminate gorilla populations with little regard for their protected status. In areas of low human population density, gorillas are often considered pests and are killed in retaliation for crop raiding and for meat.
The successful conservation of Grauer's gorilla populations will necessitate a multi-disciplinary approach. The combined results from recent surveys indicate that 67% of known Grauer's gorillas are found within the national parks Kahuzi-Biega, Maiko and Virunga. The apparent success in maintaining these populations suggests that they serve as a core for conservation of the subspecies. Creative alternatives to protect other forested lands must be explored.
The negative effects of habitat clearance and fragmentation, as well as hunting pressures, will increase for all Grauer's gorilla populations. Thus, the optimism offered by our population size estimates should not be accompanied by complacency. Without significant and sustained conservation efforts, the opportunity to ensure the conservation of the subspecies will be lost.Jefferson S. Hall, Kristin Saltonstall, Bila-Isia Inogwabini and Ilambu Omari
|Kahuzi-Biega Park lowland sector + Kasese||14,659|
|Kahuzi-Biega Park mountain sector||262|
|Maiko Park north||826|
|Maiko Park south||33|
|Itombwe Forest A||67|
|Itombwe Forest B||211|
|Itombwe Forest C||791|
|Itombwe Forest D||86|
The mountain gorilla is a subspecies found only in the afromontane and medium altitude forests of eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, northwestern Rwanda and southwestern Uganda. The habitat is relatively small in a very densely populated region of Africa. As a consequence, the threats to the survival of the subspecies are enormous. A number of organisations are working in the region, both within the protected areas, with the protected area management authorities, and around the protected areas, with local people and relevant authorities. Although conservation activities have been ongoing for several decades, the problems and threats to the mountain gorillas remain considerable.
There is a need for improving the collaboration between organisations working towards mountain gorilla conservation in the field. This need is acknowledged by the organisations working in this region, in and around the protected areas. Collaboration has frequently failed due to inadequate communication between partners. Although all organisations agree to the need for communication, mechanisms need to be developed to facilitate this.
Improved communication will strengthen regional planning for gorilla conservation and avoid overlap, thus ensuring that strategic objectives are being met. Competition between organisations can result from inadequate planning and information about other programme activities.
In December 1997, a number of organisations working towards the conservation of the afromontane forests which form the mountain gorilla habitat met to discuss improved communication and planning. A regional network was developed, including both non-governmental and governmental organisations working towards the long-term conservation of the mountain gorilla and its habitat. The regional network provides a forum for communication and coordination, enabling strategic planning to include all partners.
The mechanisms developed to improve the communication and coordination of activities in and around the mountain gorilla habitat include:
To date, the participants of the Mountain Gorilla Forum include:
In Gorilla Journal No. 12 (June 1996), Angela Meder summarized information on the status of gorillas in Nigeria and Cameroon. She noted that Nigeria's gorillas are the most northerly and westerly in Africa, occurring in four small populations close to the Cameroon border in Cross River State. I visited Cross River State in January 1998 and investigated some of the gorilla research and conservation efforts in progress. I am happy to be able to report that, although the Nigerian gorillas are still in a precarious position, they are hanging on; studies are in progress (or have recently been completed) on the three main populations, and hunting pressures appear to have eased. The three main populations are in the Afi River Forest Reserve, the Mbe Mountains, and the Boshi Extension area of the Cross River National Park (CRNP); the fourth population occurs in the Okwangwo part of the CRNP, adjacent to Cameroon's Takamanda Forest Reserve.
Because of the rugged terrain in the hill country where thesegorillas live, and because they are shy as a result of a long history of hunting, it has been difficult to make robust estimates of the number of gorillas surviving in Nigeria. However, the tentative conclusion of surveys in 1987-1988 and in 1990 was that the largest remaining population lived in the mountains in the northwestern part of the Afi River Forest Reserve, where perhaps 40-50 gorillas survived. City University of New York graduate student Kelley McFarland conducted a pilot study of the Afi gorillas in 1993. She found many gorilla signs, but she also learned of the recent killing of several gorillas. In March 1996 she returned to the Afi mountains to begin a thorough ecological study of this population, working under the auspices of the Cross River State Forestry Department and supported by the L. S. B. Leakey Foundation, Primate Conservation Incorporated and the Wildlife Conservation Society. Kelley McFarland established a base camp in the mountains above the town of Buanchor and, with a team of local assistants, began cutting survey lines up and down the precipitous Afi slopes. The study was interrupted at the end of 1996, but resumed again in October 1997 and soon after this McFarland and her team began to find many sleeping nests and feeding sites.
Surveys over the whole Afi mountain area are suggesting that this population may be divided into three more-or-less isolated units, and Kelley McFarland is finding that nest clusters in Afi vary greatly in size, lending weight to the hypothesis that gorillas in Nigeria have flexible grouping patterns. The largest nest cluster found so far contained 38 nests, strongly suggesting that there are more than 40 individuals in the Afi mountains as a whole. In addition to censusing the population and studying patterns of habitat use, McFarland is collecting fecal samples from which to analyze diet. The northerly position of the Nigerian gorillas means that theyinhabit a strongly seasonal environment and this is expected to be reflected in the animals' diet. Hair samples from nests are also being collected for genetic analysis by Jean Wickings in Gabon.
Prior to the start of McFarland's study, Peter Jenkins and Liza Gadsby of the Pandrillus drill rehabilitation programme in Calabar, Cross River State, had worked with the Forestry Department and villages around the Afi mountains to establish a ranger program, under which local men (particularly former hunters) were recruited to enforce a hunting ban.
Although this program has been temporarily suspended, McFarland's field team is presently acting as an informal protection force and McFarland reports finding no evidence of a gorilla having been killed in the mountains since 1993. Other species, including drills and chimpanzees, continue to be hunted, however, and the low-lying parts of the Afi River Forest Reserve are coming under increasing pressure from loggers. Farms continue to extend into the reserve, while fires started in the course of clearing farms have in recent years badly damaged parts of the forest, including the gorilla habitat. The Cross River Forestry Department is considering a proposal to create a Wildlife Sanctuary in the Afi mountains and McFarland's findings should contribute information for the planning of that sanctuary. At this point, however, there is no guarantee that the gorillas and their habitat will be protected after McFarland's field work ends in mid-1999.
In her earlier article, Meder reported that in 1989 WWF-UK had initiated a project in collaboration with the governments of Cross River State and the Federal Republic of Nigeria to establish a National Park in State and the Federal Republic of Nigeria to establish a National Park in the former Boshi-Okwangwo Forest Reserves and adjacent areas. One of these adjacent areas is the Mbe mountains, about 12 km southwest of Afi, where the Nigerian Conservation Foundation started a project in 1988 to study and protect what is probably Nigeria's second largest Nigerian gorilla population. The Boshi-Okwangwo Forest Reserve became the Okwangwo Division of the Cross River National Park (CRNP) in October 1991, but the Mbe mountains were excluded from the park despite planners' recommendations.
However, park officials still expect that Mbe will eventually beincorporated into the park, and in December 1995 the WWF-CRNP Okwangwo programme initiated a one-year survey of the gorillas in these mountains. This survey was led by Ernest Nwufoh, whose team spent 309 days in the field in 1995-1996, censusing nest sites along transect lines in a continuous rotation. Further sampling was done by Gabriel Ogar in March-April 1997. I saw Nwufoh's report during my January 1998 visit and discussed his findings with him. I learned that he had estimated a population of 24-32 gorillas in Mbe. This is similar to an estimate I made after surveys of the Mbe mountains in 1990. Nwufoh's team found that farmlands were continuing to encroach on the Mbe forest and that the area being used by the gorillas is probably less than 40 km2, smaller than the area estimated in earlier surveys. On the other hand, there is no strong evidence that any gorillas have been killed by hunters in the Mbe mountains since 1991.
Compared with the gorillas in the Afi and Mbe mountains, those within the Cross River National Park itself have been relatively neglected. There are two distinct populations in the park. These populations were probably in contact in the past but are almost certainly isolated from each other today. One occurs at the northern end of the park in the forests of the former Boshi Extension Forest Reserve, a reserve originally established as a gorilla sanctuary in 1958. The other is found in the southwestern part of the former Okwangwo Forest Reserve, immediately adjacent to Cameroon's Takamanda Forest Reserve; these Okwangwo and Takamanda gorillas are probably a single population unit.
In early December 1997, Ernest Nwufoh initiated transect surveys of gorilla nests in the Boshi Extension forest and in January 1998 I was able to spend six days in this area with him and part of his team. We divided ourselves into two small groups and surveyed parts of the upper Mache and Asache valleys, where the gorillas seem to be concentrated. Although we found several old nest clusters we were not able to locate any fresh gorilla signs. It was the dry season, and, according to hunters, gorillas at this time move into the lowest and most inaccessible parts of the valleys. The low density of nest sites that all researchers have found in Boshi Extension (relative to the numbers found at Mbe and Afi) strongly suggests that there are very few gorilla groups in this area. In 1990 we estimated a total population here of about 20 individuals in 60 km2; my impression is that the population is still close to that size, and therefore in a perilous position. I was given a report that one gorilla was killed in Boshi Extension early in 1996, but I did not learn of any having been killed since then. However, hunting and trapping of other wildlife continues at a high intensity in most parts of the National Park, and park managers have tended to give more attention to issues of rural development than to the rigorous control of poaching.
Although hunting is a problem in Boshi Extension, the forest here is largely intact. Growing on very steep slopes, it is not threatened at present by loggers or farmers but it has suffered fire damage on its extreme northern edge where the forest meets the grasslands of the Obudu Plateau.
These grasslands have come under increasing use by Fulani cattle herders who burn the grass in the dry season. Gorillas once visited the montane forest patches on this high plateau (1,500-1,700 m), but these forests have been badly damaged by farming and fire and the gorillas have not been seen on the plateau for some years. An NGO, Development in Nigeria, has begun a project to stabilize and promote regeneration of the plateau forests, so it is not impossible that the gorillas could one day return to the plateau. Here, they would be within easy reach of a tourist hotel located at the headquarters of the moribund Obudu Cattle Ranching Company.
The gorillas in the southwestern part of the former Okwangwo Forest Reserve have not been the subject of special study, but brief surveys in that area have found only a small number of nest sites. It is likely that the gorilla population in this area is centred in the Takamanda Forest Reserve, and that Okwangwo is a peripheral part of the population's range.
In early 1996, Jacqui Groves of the Limbe, Cameroon branch of the Pandrillus project made a brief visit to Takamanda and obtained reports about the continued presence of gorillas. This led to a plan for a more thorough survey, funded by WWF-Cameroon, which Groves began in late 1997.
The numbers of gorillas in the Takamanda-Okwangwo population are unknown, but it seems unlikely that this population exceeds 100 and it could be much smaller. Hunting of the Takamanda gorillas may have continued until quite recently; in Nigeria I received a report of one killed there in September 1996.
It is encouraging that all four of the small gorilla populations in the Nigeria-Cameroon border region are now getting some attention. At least the Nigeria-Cameroon border region are now getting some attention. At least in Nigeria this outside interest seems to have played an important role in reducing the hunting of gorillas, which was the most immediate threat to their survival. But the gorillas remain in a precarious situation, given that each population unit is so tiny, that their habitats are still being eroded at their margins, and that there is as yet no effective plan in place to combat hunting on a long-term basis. Continued attention must therefore be given to each population, with efforts being made both to better understand their status and ecology, and to establish sound and durable protection schemes. The atmosphere for establishing such protection seems to be improving. During meetings I had with Clement Ebin, the General Manager of the Cross River National Park, and with John Barker, the Manager of the WWF-CRNP Okwangwo Programme, these officials both acknowledged that the emphasis given by the park management project to community development projects had not resulted in effective wildlife protection, and that more rigorous efforts would have to be made in future to control trapping and hunting in the park. Ebin expressed an interest in finding modest outside support to improve the equipment and support facilities for park rangers and I have therefore begun exploring ways of obtaining this support and maintaining it over the long term.John Oates
For their assistance during my visit to Cross River State I would like to thank Peter Jenkins, Liza Gadsby, Simon Camp and other staff of the PandrillusPandrillus project, and Clement Ebin, John Barker, Ernest Nwufoh and other staff of the Cross River National Park and the WWF-CRNP Okwangwo Programme. I am grateful to the Research Foundation of CUNY and the Wildlife Conservation Society for financial support.
The Spanish biologist Juan Pedro Gonzalez Kirchner, who had agreed to write an article for this issue, tragically passed away in March 1998. Instead of his article, his publications are summarized here. Large parts of R¡o Muni (Equatorial Guinea) are populated only sparsely and 59% of the country is covered by undisturbed rain forest. However, in the last 25 years, the number of gorillas in R¡o Muni has decreased considerably. In 1989/1990, the gorilla population was estimated at 1,000-2,000 individuals. They live in approximately 17% of R¡o Muni's area, in 5 distribution areas which have become isolated from each other since the 1960s. The highest gorilla population densities were found in the R¡o Campo region in the northwestern part and in the Nsork region in the southwestern part of the country.
The isolation of the populations constitutes a severe threat if they include fewer than 500 individuals. The unusual frequencies of genetic anomalies and malformations that were observed may result from such isolation. Missing toe joints, for example, have been linked to inbreeding.
They are threatened mainly by the slow but continuous destruction of their habitat by the local people and by other human activities, such as hunting, capture of infants for sale, and other activities for commercial purposes. Primate meat is important in the local markets; sometimes it amounts to more than 50% of the total meat. Gorillas and chimpanzees are hunted (gorilla meat amounts to about 5% of the meat offered) and are considered a delicacy by the human population of R¡o Muni, the Fang.
The 800 km2 area of Mt. Aln has only recently been gazetted as a National Park. Since 1992 it has been one of the areas protected under the ECOFAC programme. Within the framework of this programme, Juan Enrique Garcia and Jesus Mba studied the primates and the nature conservation in this area in 1994. They were able to show that gorillas occur throughout the park. While gorillas used to be killed on a regular basis, this obviously is no longer the case. However, slash-and-burn cultivation is frequent and is a threat to the rain forest and its inhabitants. Nevertheless, the park is protected quite well and the hunting pressure on animals remains low. The conservation of Mt. Aln is developing exceptionally well, and the sombre prediction made by Jorge Sabater P¡ in 1981 - "We can predict a very tragic end for the gorilla," - hopefully will not come true in the near future.Angela Meder
Goma, April 19, 1998. The rangers in the Mikeno sector and in the central (Rwindi) sector are still being accompanied by soldiers on their patrols. Jos Kalpers from IGCP has started a monitoring programme for gorillas and other large mammals in the Mikeno sector. Every habituated gorilla group is visited regularly; each animal is observed, photographed and described. The guides name the gorillas and prepare a sort of identity card for them. In order to locate them more easily, an exact map with all landmarks (toponymy) is to be made with the help of GPS (Global Positioning System).
Since September 1997, visits to gorillas have resumed in Jomba. It is almost the only source of income for the park, and even this is very low. Currently, the sale of permits for gorilla visits has been put into the hands of a travel agency called Equatours for a period of 10 months in an attempt to increase the revenues.
In the other parts of the park, tourist facilities have not yet been restored; first, the roads and the buildings have to be repaired and the park administration needs vehicles. However, tourists travelling on their own can still visit the savannah part in the centre and in the east of the park.
Poaching has clearly decreased in the Virunga National Park, mainly thanks to the support from WFP (World Food Programme), IGCP (International Gorilla Conservation Program), DFGF (Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund) and Berggorilla & Regenwald Direkthilfe. The animals that were hunted heavily during the war and the subsequent months are reproducing well and populations are recovering slowly. Unfortunately, we do not have the funds for population surveys, which would be very important. The population dynamics should be determined, but funding agencies have other priorities. It would not take much money to finance a small programme of population surveys and research, with elephants, hippos and other large mammals as main targets.
The northern sector that includes Mt. Tshiaberimu has not been surveyed much. Funds have never been available except for the Tshiaberimu area. WFP has agreed to support this sector, but the contracts with the government may have to be renewed. Since January 1998, the southern, central and eastern sectors have not received any more funds; only Tshiaberimu is supported by DFGF.
High human population pressure and the poverty of the people who live close to the park are the greatest threats to the park. Sometimes the behaviour of the soldiers in the military posts within the park is often a problem; some soldiers do not hesitate to poach in broad daylight.
Park staff lost control over great parts of the national park in the chaotic time after the war. Many employees had to flee. For this reason, our work concentrated on particularly critical regions such as the area where the gorillas occur as well as the surroundings of Rwindi and Lulimbi. Land was cultivated in some places within the park where we were not able to perform regular patrols: between Ishasha and Nyamilima, at Kibirizi, from the foot of Mt. Kabusha to Kamandi, at Kiavinyonge, on Mt. Tshiaberimu and on the western shore of Lake Edward. The expulsion of the people who had cultivated the fields sometimes turned into a political issue.
In the Sarambwe Mountains, we installed 7 rangers, 5 pisteurs and an officer who is in command of the rangers. They are to observe the gorillas - the Katendegere group which moves between the Sarambwe Mountains and the Bwindi National Park in Uganda. The Sarambwe Mountains are covered by 7 km2 of forest which is separated into 3 blocks. The gorillas were in Uganda while the team was installed. We heard that the Ugandan guides lost track of the gorillas. The group is now being searched for in Uganda and in Congo. It is not clear how many gorillas are living on Mt. Tshiaberimu; I would, therefore, like to spend at least 2 weeks there with Vital Katembo in order to conduct a census. Trinto Mugangu supports this project and he can fund Vital. However, I am not sure where I could find support.Claude Sikubwabo Kiyengo
We travelled to Kisoro via Kabale in the Mitsubishi Pajero from the Mgahinga Project. In Kisoro, we had a friendly welcome by the employees of the Mgahinga Gorilla National Park. We handed over US$ 480 to chief warden Ignatius Achoka. This is the monthly top-up (US$ 20) of the basic salary for four rangers for February to July 1998. As in the last half year, they will continue to follow the non-habituated gorillas to collect more data on habitat utilization and territory. Ignatius Achoka will send reports about the results twice a year. In addition, we handed over 12 sweat-shirts for the park rangers and several copies of the most recent Gorilla Journal.
We had a very good impression of the Mgahinga Gorilla National Park. When we visited the park headquarters in Ntebeko, the rangers seemed to be motivated and we were pleased to see them well equipped (for example, with new raingear). They were regularly patrolling the park, and the blackboard of animal sightings in the National Park Office in Kisoro was still being updated. The habituated gorilla group Nyakagezi stayed mainly in Uganda in 1997, which meant that a lot of tourists visited the park.
In general, however, tourism in Uganda has decreased markedly. The reason is the uncertain situation in western Uganda and the close proximity of the trouble spots in Kivu (eastern Congo) and northwestern Rwanda. Moreover, the grenade and bomb attacks on Kampala hotels in October 1997 and April 1998, conducted by militant groups, have probably put visitors off.
Tutsi refugees who had been living in southwestern Uganda for decades had returned to Rwanda as early as 1994/1995, and therefore the "Tutsi free" region around Kabale and Kisoro has to some extent been spared from attacks by Interahamwe. However, the Ugandan side of the Virunga Volcanoes has already served several times as a "transit zone" for the Interahamwe. They operate from the forests of the Congolese Virunga Park and on occasions cross Ugandan territory into northwestern Rwanda to carry out guerrilla attacks. Mgahinga National Park has been repeatedly involved in these movements. In July 1997, one ranger was injured when he tried to arrest an Interahamwe fighter. In October 1997, an Interahamwe group of more than 300 men was observed crossing the border zone of the Mgahinga National Park on the way to Rwanda.Christoph Luebbert
The German developmental aid organization GTZ had to cut the funds for 1998 substantially. This had also drastic effects on the activities of the project "Integrated Conservation Kahuzi-Biega National Park". During his 4-week visit in Bukavu, Georg Doerken had to dismiss about two-thirds of the project staff. The programme is now partly funded by external donors, for example UNHCR, USAID, WCS and USFWS, UNESCO, Berggorilla & Regenwald Direkthilfe and WWF.
The security in Kahuzi-Biega is now generally much better. Even in the lowland area sometimes it is possible to carry out patrols. Now there are 5 habituated gorilla groups because one family has split. One part is now led by a "wild" male, the other part by a female. Poaching of elephants still continues, especially if they destroy the fields. It is not known exactly how many individuals are still living in the old part of the park, but there still seems to be many. A survey of the population will be done in cooperation with WCS.
Guy Debonnet will become the new director of the GTZ project in Kahuzi-Biega, and Georg Drken will move to Kinshasa to work as advisor of the ICCN.
The GTZ project Rehabilitation of the Virunga National Park - which had been suspended since February 1995 - will most certainly not be started. Other organizations should urgently be given the opportunity to start activities there in order to conserve the remaining flora and fauna.
Gorilla visits in Jomba often do not proceed in a controlled manner. A German/Ugandan tour operator told us what he had observed at the beginning of this year: 5-6 overland trucks arrived at the Bunagana border post every day. Although these cars were not full, and not all of the passengers went to see the gorillas, 20-30 tourists (at least 20 each time) started for the gorilla tour in Jomba every day. The gorillas were visited several times per day, also in the afternoon.
The costs for a gorilla visit at that time included US$ 165 for the permit, US$ 60 for a visa and US$ 10 for the transfer in a minibus (one drive always costs at least US$ 100).
May 9, 1998. Security at the Tshivanga Station has steadily improved since the beginning of 1998. The habituated gorillas have been visited on a regular basis, and tourism has started again at the local level. However, as in other areas, security can not be guaranteed because armed poachers and a few rebel groups still wander freely through the areas which are not patrolled by the national army. The park rangers are not officially permitted to carry any weapons and instead are accompanied by the military in the park. Patrols which take several days and monitoring over long distances are also dependent on the availability of military personnel who have to accompany the team in the park. The efficiency of the research work is therefore hampered.
Thanks to the financial support of Berggorilla & Regenwald Direkthilfe, the working conditions have improved, and most importantly, so has the morale of the research team, despite the aforementioned obstacles.
In December we were able to resume a more or less normal schedule of behavioral observations of the great apes in Kasirusiru and Tshibati. In Tshibati it is now possible to move around more freely, in contrast to Kasirusiru, where rebel groups still patrol the area and thereby hinder our research work.
Despite the difficulties of camping in the forest, our research team was able to locate a habituated gorilla group which had not been sighted for the past 9 months. It should be added that this was the result of joint efforts by the military, park rangers and pisteurs. Before their disappearance in May 1997, the gorilla group had consisted of 9 individuals, but only 4 members remain. Moreover, it was noted that their home range had shifted closer to the foot of Mt. Biega, in the western part of their previous home range. These changes might have been caused by confrontations with other (wild) gorilla groups, whose home range overlaps with theirs. Two wild gorilla groups, one lone silverback and one habituated gorilla group, the Mubalala family, are known to live in this area.
On March 24, the gorilla group that we had been observing in Kasirusiru had a conflict with a wild gorilla family with 15 members. After this confrontation, our gorilla group increased from 4 to 9 individuals, including one infant (we counted 8 night nests). On April 7, the same gorilla group fought once more against a wild gorilla group, and on April 8, the number of night nests had increased further from 8 to 14. Now the group consists of 16 animals, because one of the new females transferred with her infant.
On April 16, the gorilla family ranged in the general direction of Kalonge - even farther to the west. Our research team lost the group, because in this area the gorilla tracks are obscured by elephant tracks, poachers, other gorilla groups and human invaders. In order to continue our search, we had to wait for military assistance. Our research team attempted to find the gorillas on their own, but without success, until the military arrived the following day.
During our stay, we focused our attention on the home ranges of the gorillas and found that the number of gorilla groups had remained the same as during the census made in June and July 1996. Nevertheless, it was difficult for us to determine whether all the members of each group had survived, and most importantly, whether the populations are still connected. Our estimates seem promising, and we believe that the gorillas have suffered less than the elephants from the war, despite the fact that 2 silverbacks of the habituated groups were killed.
Addition, July 1998: The monitoring of the chimpanzees is proceeding normally, considering the security situation at the research sites. In Tshibati, we sometimes can observe them feeding in a fruiting tree for 30 minutes. It will take a long time until the habituation is finished.
Observations on the diet of the gorillas and chimpanzees were made on a more or less regular basis, in the same way as before the war. Regular estimates had not been possible then either. The feces samples that we collected in Kasirusiru and Tshibati will be analyzed in the Laboratory for Primatology in Lwiro. A publication is in preparation which discusses the role of chimpanzees in seed dispersal in the Kahuzi-Biega National Park.
Data collection for this part of our research was completed in October 1996 and the data are now being fed into the computer for analysis. Unfortunately, a large part of the data were lost due to a computer virus. We are presently trying to re-enter the data into our computer and hope that results will be available by October 1998.
Although our research team has to leave the park when poachers or other intruders stay in the area, we were able to resume most of our research activities. Poaching is still a threat to the animal populations, despite consorted efforts with the military. As long as the rangers are not permitted to carry guns, their work in the field is quite meaningless. In our research area wire snares are found more often. They pose a serious threat to the gorillas, who sometimes lose hands or feet as a consequence of being caught in a snare. Although local efforts to conserve the Kahuzi-Biega National Park have been established, the international community must continue to support our efforts and remind our government of the urgency of conserving this World Heritage before it is too late. Moreover, these efforts should be pursued not only in the interest of national conservation, but concern for conservation on a global level.Mbake Sivha
When I visited Kahuzi this February, I was able to observe all 4 habituated groups. The Mushamuka group consisted of 9 gorillas including 4 females and 1 blackback. All females had babies that were 1-2 years old. The Maheshe group (now led by Lambchop) consisted of 17 gorillas, including 10 females. The fact that there were no babies suggested Lambchop's failure in reproduction. However, he copulated with at least 2 females this May, so this group has become a reproductive unit again.
The Nindja group consisted of 21 gorillas including 11 females. No adult or young male is associated with this group. One female and one juvenile of this group joined another group which I had habituated. It will also be monitored by the park and my assistants will help the park to complete the habituation.
The Mubalala group consisted of 21 gorillas, including 13 females. At least 2 females had moved from the Maheshe group to join Mubalala. Between last August (when I visited them) and this February, one infant was caught in a snare and lost its hand. In April it was caught again in a snare and will probably lose the other hand, too. Now it is walking bipedally. It's a pity!
My field assistants thought that a number of gorillas had been killed during the war. We should conduct another census as soon as possible in order to know the exact number of gorillas surviving in the park after the war.Juichi Yamagiwa
This is a preliminary report covering a period from August 1997 to February 1998. We are very grateful for the support of Berggorilla & Regenwald Direkthilfe and the interest shown to facilitate this kind of activity in our park.
Our aim was to find out how many gorillas use Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, what areas they use and when. A team of four experienced rangers were deployed to carry out monitoring of the gorilla groups and also patrol for illegal activities. The staff were not deployed regularly because of occasional shortage of staff when there were a number of activities taking place. Most of the rangers have participated in gorilla censuses both in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park and Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. All experienced rangers in gorilla census had a chance to participate in the programme.
Throughout this period, a lot of observations of trails, dung droppings and nest sites were made, but there were few actual sightings of gorillas. The gorilla signs were noted mainly around the Rugezi swamp area. On a few occasions the gorillas had crossed over to Rwanda but returned after a short period. It is estimated that this Rugezi group has about 7 members (accurate figures will be available after more observations).
There was evidence that in September 1997 a group visited Sabinyo peak. We have never before had a recorded sighting of gorillas at such an altitude and vegetation zone in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park. This was possibly a kind of refuge from the tension in the neighbouring conservation areas.
The rangers are going to continue with the program since funds are still available. Currently we believe that there should be about two groups of gorillas which visit Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, a group of 3 which is more common and possibly a group of 7 which was sighted around the Uganda-Rwanda border near Rugezi swamp. More work needs to be done to confirm our results and to gain more accurate information.Ignatius Achoka