Demand protection for the Mountain Gorilla, We need 10.000 signatures
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Population size and growth rates
Conservation efforts have led to an increase in overall population of the mountain gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei) in the Virungas and at Bwindi. The overall population is now believed to be at least 880 individuals. Three more – infants who suffered a traumatic poaching experience, injuries from snares, and/or losing their mothers in brutal killings – are currently in care of the Senkwekwe Centre orphanage in the DR of Congo.
In December 2010 the official website of Virunga National Park announced that "the number of mountain gorillas living in the tri-national forested area of which Virunga forms a part, has increased by 26.3% over the last seven years - an average growth rate of 3.7% per annum." The 2010 census estimated that 480 mountain gorillas inhabited the region. The 2003 census had estimated the Virunga gorilla population to be 380 individuals; which represented a 17% increase in the total population since 1989 when there were 320 individuals. The population has almost doubled since its lowest point in 1981, when a census estimated that only 254 gorillas remained.
The 2006 census at Bwindi indicated a population of 340 gorillas, representing a 6% increase in total population size since 2002 and a 12% increase from 320 individuals in 1997. All of those estimates were based on traditional census methods using dung samples collected at night nests. Conversely, genetic analyses of the entire population during the 2006 census indicated there were only approximately 300 individuals in Bwindi. The discrepancy highlights the difficulty in using imprecise census data to estimate population growth.
In both Bwindi and the Virungas, groups of gorillas that were habituated for research and ecotourism have higher growth rates than unhabituated gorillas, according to computer modeling of their population dynamics. Habituation means that through repeated, neutral contact with humans, gorillas exhibit normal behavior when people are in proximity. Habituated gorillas are more closely guarded by field staff and they receive veterinary treatment for snares, respiratory disease, and other life-threatening conditions. Nonetheless, researchers recommended that some gorillas remain unhabituated as a bet-hedging strategy against the risk of human pathogens being transmitted throughout the population.
Despite their recent population growth, the mountain gorilla remains threatened. As of 2008, mountain gorillas were listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List and are dependent on conservation efforts to survive.
The main International Non-Government Organization involved in conservation of mountain gorillas is the International Gorilla Conservation Programme, which was established in 1991 as a joint effort of the African Wildlife Foundation, Fauna & Flora Internationaland the World Wide Fund for Nature. Conservation requires work at many levels, from local to international, and involves protection and law enforcement as well as research and education. Dian Fossey broke down conservation efforts into the following three categories:
Active conservation includes frequent patrols in wildlife areas to destroy poacher equipment and weapons, firm and prompt law enforcement, census counts in regions of breeding and ranging concentration, and strong safeguards for the limited habitat the animals occupy."
Theoretical conservation seeks to encourage growth in tourism by improving existing roads that circle the mountains, by renovating the park headquarters and tourists' lodging, and by the habituation of gorillas near the park boundaries for tourists to visit and photograph."
Community-based conservation management involves biodiversity protection by, for, and with the local community in practise this is applied in varying degrees. The process seeks equity between meeting the needs of the local population and preserving the protected areas and involves local people in decision making processes.
A collaborative management process has had some success in the Bwindi National Park. The forest was gazetted to National Park in 1991; this occurred with little community consultation and the new status prohibited local people from accessing resources within the park as well as reduced economic opportunities. Subsequently a number of forest fires were deliberately lit and threats were made to the gorillas. To counteract this, three schemes to provide benefits from existence of the forest communities and involve the local community in park management were developed. They included agreements allowing the controlled harvesting of resources in the park, receipt of some revenue from tourism and establishment of a trust fund partly for community development. Tension between people and park have been reduced and now there is more willingness to take part in gorilla protection. Surveys of community attitudes conducted by CARE show a steadily increasing proportion of the people in favour of the park. More than that there have been no cases of deliberate burning and the problem of snares in these areas has been reduced. The introduction of ceremonies such as Kwita Izina (in 2005) has also had some impact in drawing attention to gorilla preservation and its importance to local communities.
While community-based conservation bears out individual analysis, there are significant overlaps between active and theoretical conservation and a discussion of the two as halves of a whole seems more constructive. For example, in 2002 Rwanda's national parks went through a restructuring process. The director of the IGCP, Eugene Rutagarama stated that "They got more rangers on better salaries, more radios, more patrol cars and better training in wildlife conservation. They also built more shelters in the park, from which rangers could protect the gorillas". The funding for these types of improvements usually comes from tourism
2008, approximately 20 000 tourists visited gorilla populations in Rwanda, generating around $8 million in revenue for the parks. In Uganda too, tourism is seen as a "high value activity that generates enough revenue to cover park management costs and contribute to the national budget of the Uganda Wildlife Authority." Furthermore, tourist visits which are conducted by park rangers also allow censuses of gorilla sub-populations to be undertaken concurrently.
In addition to tourism, other measures for conservation of the sub-population can be taken such as ensuring connecting corridors between isolated areas to make movement between them easier and safer.
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