Why Are Mountain Gorillas Endangered?

Why are mountain gorillas one of the critically endangered wildlife in the face of the earth? Do you ever ask yourself this question? Mountain gorillas are sub-species of the Eastern gorillas and are sheltered within Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and the Virunga Conservation area comprising of Mgahinga National Park of Uganda, Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda and Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

One of the reasons why these primates are critically endangered is because of their low population. Did you know that there are about 1000 mountain gorillas in the whole World? The population of western lowland and eastern lowland gorillas stand at around 100,000 and 5000 individuals respectively in the wild.

Not only that, these Giant Apes are faced with numerous threats with the common ones being Diseases. The fact that they are 98% related to humans makes them susceptible to human diseases especially respiratory diseases such as Tuberculosis, cough and flue/influenza, measles and Ebola. The fact that these primates live in families, the diseases can tremendously affect them and worse even wipe out the entire family. This is the reason as to why gorilla treks are strictly regulated in order to avoid human spread of diseases.

Mountain gorillas are also affected by habitat loss. These primates only inhabit forested areas of high elevations that experience low temperatures. They are herbivores that mainly depend of plant leaves, thistle, bamboo shoots and wild celery yet local communities encroach their habitats for forest products such as firewood and timber. Not only that, the fact that forests are being converted into farmland poses more threat to their survival hence making them very endangered. Deforestation and encroachment on mountain gorilla habitats is severe within Virunga National Park (the Eastern side of the Democratic Republic of Congo) where more than 3700 acres of forest land was cleared by encroachers in addition to harvesting of trees for firewood and timber inside the forest.

Poaching is another challenge affecting the Mountain gorillas. Since their discovery two decades ago, Scientists in addition poachers killed to over 50 of these Giant Apes and today, the threat still exists and their numbers and habitats are at risk. Poachers normally use wire snares to trap warthogs, antelopes and other wildlife species but sadly mountain gorillas also get caught up in the traps hence lose body parts or even their lives. Unfortunately, there are still instances when these primates are killed and their body parts sold to researchers, and their infants sold as pets. Poaching is even worse within the Democratic Republic of Congo where bush meat is still hunted than other countries

What is being done to save the critically endangered Mountain gorillas

Revenues from the sale of gorilla permits is used for promoting environmental initiatives including revenue sharing to provide local community members with alternative sources of income, conserving and protection of the mountain gorillas. When revenue is disbursed, it is used for funding some of the community development projects like sanitation and water projects and sustainable agriculture among others.

Outreach projects are importantly used in ensuring sensitization and awareness as a way of conserving mountain gorillas and teaching local community members about proper hygiene and prevent the transmission of diseases between humans and animals.

Not only that, mountain gorillas are saved through habituation into families, donation and funding programs of conservation initiatives, purchase of handcrafts to support local enterprises and participating community-based tourist activities around the National Parks.

In conclusion, Mountain gorillas are critically endangered wildlife species because of their slow population rate and low World population (880 individuals) as well as numerous threats such as habitat loss, diseases as well as poaching. However, with the revenue sharing program outreach projects and community-based tourist activities, the mountain gorillas are saved from threats against their survival.

More than trees – Why Forests need Gorillas

In their 2010 article in UNEP’s ‘Our Planet’,  several conservationists including by then the Year of Gorilla Ambassador Ian Redmond, Moses Mapesa of the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) and Aggrey Rwetsiba of Rwanda Development Board describe in a compelling manner the crucial role played by great apes and other large mammals in forests.

They function as seed dispensers and are essential for many plant species’ life-cycles and the long-term integrity of forest ecosystems. As illustrated by the example of gorilla watching tourism in Uganda, they can also make a major contribution economically, and are worth much more alive than dead.

Here are the reasons why forests need gorillas and this piece contains a bounty of additional information.

A Conversation on Poachers, Gorillas and Copper Wires

Ian Redmond is a tropical field-biologist. He’s renowned for over 30 years of work with great apes, elephants and other species. He calls himself a ‘reluctant conservationist’ – he would rather study his subjects in peace than document their continued decline.

After being Year of the Gorilla Ambassador in 2009. In the year 2010 Ian was named Ambassador for the UNEP Convention on Migratory Species (www.cms.int). He was recently in Bonn, where the Convention’s secretariat is located, for a scientific advisory meeting on the state of migratory species, and took the opportunity to join Deutsche Welle Radio in their studio.

In the interview, Ian describes what it was like to come face to face with gorilla poachers during last year’s State of the Gorilla journey. Here is the whole interview;

Mountain Gorillas are starting to thrive and with the conservation efforts in Rwanda and Uganda that Ian pioneered along with his mentor Dian Fossy, they are the only great ape in the world that are actually expanding in numbers.

There is a lot of work to be done however, Gorillas can be found in 10 countries in Africa and they are hunted for their meat. Poaching is a serious problem and they are even killed by farmers for destroying their crops.

Some tribes revere the gorilla and would never hurt it while others revere them for their strength and believe that by eating Gorilla meat they will in turn gain strength themselves.  Other people eat gorilla meat simply because it is food.

The Gorilla’s main obstacle in survival however is habitat loss. Great changes need to be done in the world to conserve our natural resources.  Ian is now speaking and lecturing on this issue.  He has attended climate summits and conferences around the world and is working relentlessly to make a difference.


Do We have the Energy to Save the Gorillas?

Logging for timber, plantations or fuel, coincides with bushmeat extraction An omnipresent yet invisible threat to gorillas and their habitats, as well as to countless other species, is the ever-growing human demand for energy and its consequences.

Charcoal production is a major threat to gorilla forests in many areas, not least the Mountain Gorilla habitat in Virunga National Park, Democratic Republic of Congo. To reduce this threat, solar cookers, tree-planting on farms and the spread of fuel-efficient stoves are needed. The Year of the Gorilla (YoG) is supporting a project in the Mountain Gorillas’ range which enables local residents to purchase highly fuel-efficient stoves for a low price, thereby enabling them to use less firewood, which is often taken from the very same forests that are home to the gorillas.

This threat manifests itself also through fossil fuel extraction. Oil exploration in Petit Loango wetland, Gabon, put Western Lowland Gorillas in peril, but prospecting luckily did not yield results to justify further action. The search for nuclear fuel can have similar effects.

Robert Hepworth, Executive Secretary of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of wild animals (UNEP/CMS), said: “Stopping the current overexploitation of natural resources is a key element of any strategy leading to a sustainable way of living. The forests and woodlands of Africa must play a central role in efforts to avoid dangerous climate change. There is a strong scientific case for carbon finance to make significant contributions to gorilla conservation, as gorilla range states would benefit financially from protecting their forests.”

A further worrying development is the fact that many gorilla range states are signing land deals with foreign companies for agriculture, including bio-fuels. On top of destroying the habitat of numerous species, forest degradation also means palm oil, an edible oil found in one in ten supermarket products and also increasingly being seen as a profitable bio-fuel, has a higher carbon footprint than the fossil fuels it is supposed to replace.

Beyond the immediate impact of these industries, the influx of relatively well-paid workers who can afford to frequently eat meat causes bushmeat trade to boom and gorillas to decline, as happened with the Coltan boom in Democratic Republic of Congo in 2000/2001.

Apes and other large mammals are keystone species in their ecosystems, dispersing billions of seeds, which have higher germination and seedling survival rates than seeds that just fall to ground. Ian Redmond OBE, Ambassador for the YoG said, “I am proud to be an Ambassador for the YoG. Fascinating though gorillas are because of their similarities to humans, we also need to focus on their key ecological role. They are second only to elephants in the number of seeds dispersed per unit area, and symbolise the fate of the Congo Basin forests, which the planet needs for climate stability. Save the gorillas and you save the world!”

Viewed globally, degradation and destruction of habitats not only threaten gorillas, they also worsen climate change overall. Tropical trees in undisturbed forest are absorbing nearly a fifth of the CO2 released by burning fossil fuels. The world’s remaining tropical forests remove 4.8 billion tonnes of CO2 emissions from the atmosphere each year. This includes a previously unknown carbon sink in Africa, mopping up 1.2 billion tonnes of CO2.

Numerous threats endanger gorillas’ survival. Together with the other great apes, they are most severely threatened by: habitat loss and fragmentation; hunting and the bushmeat trade; diseases and epidemics; mining; and the effects of armed conflicts. This is why the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species (UNEP/CMS), the UNEP/UNESCO Great Apes Survival Partnership (GRASP) and the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) have joined forces to declare 2009 the Year of the Gorilla.

Angela Meder of the German gorilla conservation NGO Berggorilla & Regenwald Direkthilfe e.V. said in 2009: “This year, we celebrate our 25th anniversary. Our organization supports gorilla conservation projects through quick, unbureaucratic help. For example we are currently supporting the reforestation of a montane forest on the edge of Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo.“

On May 21st, YoG Ambassador Ian Redmond and Dr. Angela Meder of German NGO and GRASP partner Berggorilla & Regenwald Direkthilfe e.V. gave a lecture entitled “Gorillas – Survival or Extinction” at the Zoological Museum König, Bonn, Germany.

Dr. Angela Meder opened with an outlook on Germany’s role in gorilla studies and the current taxonomy, some research findings and how BRD was formed and which projects it supports.

Ian Redmond then recapitulated the ‘Mountain Gorilla story’ from George Schaller and Dian Fossey (whom he knew personally) to current activities to save them from extinction through international cooperation and the Year of the Gorilla, contrasting the fragile recovery of Mountain Gorillas with the continuing decline of the other sub-species, and highlighting the importance of gorillas for intact forest ecosystems.

This was followed by Q&A and discussion with the audience. The book ‘Gorillas – the Gentle Giants’ by EMB Books (part of revenue goes to gorilla conservation) was offered for sale.

A press conference on May 22nd 2009 at Langer Eugen Tower, UN Campus Bonn, again highlighted the need to view energy consumption patterns in light of the effects they have on ecosystems and the species therein.