In the heart of Virunga National Park, a remarkable conservation success story unfolds, as dedicated efforts and unwavering commitment have led to the protection and preservation of the majestic mountain gorillas.
Mountain Gorillas, one of the rarest mammals on Earth, find refuge in the vast wilderness of Virunga National Park. This protected area plays a crucial role in safeguarding over three hundred mountain gorillas, representing a significant proportion of the remaining population. As biodiversity faces widespread deterioration globally, the conservation of these majestic creatures stands as a remarkable achievement. This success story is the outcome of collaborative efforts between state actors, civil society, and the private sector in Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and Rwanda.
The Dedicated Guardians
Park Wardens’ Tireless Efforts: At the core of this conservation endeavor lies the unwavering dedication of more than a thousand park wardens. For four decades, these unsung heroes have worked tirelessly, conducting daily patrols and closely monitoring the mountain gorillas. Their commitment remains unswerving, even in the face of the most challenging and violent events, ensuring the safety and well-being of these magnificent creatures.
Battling Habitat Loss and Encroachment: Habitat loss poses a significant threat to all species inhabiting Virunga National Park. The production of illicit charcoal and slash-and-burn farming, driven by the need for energy and income generation, are major contributors to this loss. Furthermore, the establishment of new settlements by people displaced due to regional conflicts encroaches upon gorilla territories. While the poaching of mountain gorillas for food or medicine is rare, they often fall victim to snares set for smaller animals. Dedicated park rangers remove thousands of snares annually to mitigate this threat.
Protecting Against Human-Transmitted Infections: Due to their close genetic relation to humans, gorillas are highly susceptible to infections carried by humans. Consequently, during recent outbreaks such as Ebola and the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Virunga National Park closed its doors to tourism. This precautionary measure aims to shield mountain gorillas from potential transmission of diseases. Gorillas that do fall ill receive vigilant monitoring and necessary treatment by veterinary personnel to prevent fatal outcomes.
Population Growth and Conservation Achievements
As of mid-2021, the mountain gorilla population was estimated to be around 350 individuals, with 225 individuals (divided into 10 groups) habituated to human presence. The population growth rate in the DRC, standing at 4.7% per year, surpasses the natural rate of the species (3%). This remarkable progress testifies to the effectiveness of the conservation efforts led by Virunga’s dedicated rangers. An exhaustive cross-border census is planned for 2022 to further evaluate and monitor the population.
Monitoring, Patrolling, and Securing the Habitat: The conservation success in Virunga National Park is driven by an “extreme conservation” strategy that involves daily monitoring of individuals by guards, trackers, and veterinarians. Approximately 2,200 patrols are conducted annually, averaging six patrols per day, serving the dual purpose of combating poaching and ensuring habitat security. Over the past five years, rangers have covered a staggering distance of 250,000 kilometers during their patrols, equivalent to circumnavigating the Earth, and climbed a cumulative 2,500 kilometers, akin to scaling Mount Everest every month.
Virunga National Park stands as a beacon of hope for the conservation of mountain gorillas. Through collaborative efforts and the unwavering dedication of park wardens, these magnificent creatures have found a sanctuary amidst the challenges of habitat loss and human-transmitted diseases. The continued commitment to extreme conservation practices ensures the safeguarding of the gorillas and their habitat, paving the way for their future survival.
If you’d like to read more about gorillas, read this article about how gorillas have been making a comeback.
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