At the end of March 2001, I once again had the opportunity of visiting the mountain gorillas in the Volcano National Park in Rwanda. I obtained permits for the same gorilla families as I did during my last visit: Amahoro and Suza. While the average number of visitors during my 2 days' visit last year was 2 persons, the average this year was about 6 persons per gorilla group. All numbers refer to the tourist "low season" (March, April).
Normally, tourists are not allocated by the ORTPN office (Office Rwandais du Tourisme et des Parcs Nationaux - Rwandan Office of Tourism and National Parks) on particular groups among the 4 habituated gorilla groups, but it is attempted to send the maximum number of visitors per group (8 persons) because this means a lower logistic expense.
We found the Amahoro group after a trip that lasted a little more than an hour on a steep slope within sight of the cultivated fields outside the park. The rangers, who climbed the slope earlier in order to locate the gorillas, were in permanent radio contact with the guides. The number of visitors, guides, porters and soldiers on this day was almost as high as the number of the gorillas in the Amahoro group. The few soldiers and porters usually stay at a distance from the gorillas, and only the visitors and guides approach the gorillas to within a few metres. But even this is not always enforced, according to the report by Chris Whittier of the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project, who accompanied both trackings and who by means of GPS (Global Positioning System) recorded data such as altitude and exact geographic coordinates.
Disturbance due to stress is presumably higher for the families habituated for tourists than for those with the research teams, because they sometimes are visited on 7 days a week by up to 15 people (who do not always behave according to the regulations). The research groups are visited by only a few people on 4 days a week, although the researchers are allowed to stay longer with the groups than the tourists. The stipulated length of stay - one hour - was exceeded when we visited the Amahoro family.
Some guides are still not sufficiently equipped for their profession (e.g. no good shoes or gum boots), which are necessary for this job.Cyril C. Grüter
A 14-year-old young silverback in a Karisoke research gorilla group was recently very sick following a prolonged respiratory infection. Amahoro, a name meaning "peace" in Kinyarwanda, became lethargic, did not eat and was having difficulty keeping up with his group. The group, however, adjusted their travel speed to avoid leaving him behind. There are five young silverbacks in this group, and one in particular, Gwiza, was an almost constant companion of the invalid.
When it was clear that Amahoro's condition was deteriorating, we contacted the International Gorilla Conservation Programme (IGCP) in Uganda in the absence of the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Center vets from Rwanda. IGCP contacted Wayne Boardman, working at the Uganda Wildlife Education Centre. We had lengthy discussions of whether or not to intervene and if so how. Vince Smith of Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund (DFGF) Europe also participated in the debate. After an evaluation visit, Wayne Boardman discussed Amahoro's condition by telephone with Antoine Mudakikwa and Mike Cranfield of MGVP and Liz Macfie, Veterinary Advisor to IGCP.
The following day we successfully darted Amahoro with two antibiotics. His weak state contributed to the ease of the intervention a vocalisation would have drawn the attention of the dominant silverback but Amahoro hardly reacted to the dart, he simply went to his mother, Pandora, for comfort. He has now fully recovered and was an enthusiastic participant during a recent inter-group interaction. Thanks to everyone involved.
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