A new census for Mountain Gorillas is set for September 2015 in the Great Virunga Massif is set for September, 2015, the Greater Virunga Trans boundary Collaboration- GVTC has said.
The massif includes Uganda's Bwindi and Mgahinga National Park, Virunga National Park in DR Congo and the Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda.
The last mountain gorillas census was conducted in September 2011 and its results indicated a 3.2% increase in gorilla population (to a total of about 880 in the wild) in the Greater Virunga the previous ones having been conducted in 2006, 2002 and 1997. All other censuses before have taken place in a duration spacing of five years apart.
This census is aimed at estimating the current gorilla numbers of Uganda’s BINP, document information on illegal activities, the gorillas distribution and compile information on other mammals in the ecosystem.
The organizations involved in the planning and eventual implementation of the activity include Uganda Wildlife Authority, the Greater Virunga Trans boundary Collaborative Secretariat (GTVCS), the Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature, the Rwanda Development Board, local governments and the International Gorilla Conservation Programme, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Conservation Through Public Health, the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project, the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund – International and us, the Institute for Tropical Forest Conservation.
James Byamukama, the Programme Manager at GVTC says the exercise, which should have started earlier, was delayed by the insecurity in DR Congo. He however adds that they are set to conduct the census in September starting in Virunga National Park.
Byamukama says with the census, the collaboration will be able to plan for future conservation efforts and the emerging trends of threats to gorilla population. Periodic censuses of endangered populations of high-profile species including gorillas help conservationists to understand their population dynamics assess the success of conservation programmes aimed at ensuring their survival
The method of use in this census will be the sweep method as well as fecal samples collected for generic analysis. In the sweep method, teams traverse each marked sector of the park in a zigzag manner. They look for fresh gorilla trails till their nests are found and counted. The estimates are made based on nests encountered in the due course of the census. The estimates are made based on nests encountered in the due course of the census. In great apes mammals, research has proven that the sweeping has been the most efficient method to date unlike the transect,experts assert.
In a preparatory census meeting of the stakeholders recently in Kabale, UWA’s Senior Monitoring and Research co-coordinator, Mr. Aggrey Rwesiba stated how important this exercise is to Uganda Wildlife Authority. He noted that the census provided vital information for establishing best management strategies that could be applied at both local and global scales to conserve the mountain Gorilla population. He accordingly stressed that the census was an important index for the different stakeholders on the effectiveness of their work towards conserving the mountain gorillas.
Unlike other censuses done before in Bwindi, generic analysis where the fecal samples will be analyzed to minimize error and ascertain more accurate figures of the gorillas. It is estimated that a distance of not less than 600km will be covered by various teams to be involved in the census around the entire. Many staff from Bwindi Impenetrable National Park has already committed themselves to be part of this historical event of counting gorillas and preparation are in a high notch. The vegetation and terrain of Bwindi forest make it uniquely different from that Virungas. This makes the census more challenging as well as exciting, something to look forward to.
The Conservation Area Manager of Bwindi Mgahinga Conservation Area, Mr. Pontius Ezuma has committed resources such as standby vehicles for the field teams and security all through the census exercise. In his own admission, he expects a rigorous time ahead thus the need to adequately prepare since the exercise has to be accommodated with many routine activities in park.
In the census carried out in Bwindi population in was carried out in 2002, results showed that the population had increased since the previous census in 1997 by approximately 7%, to 320 individuals according to McNeilage and others 2006 while the Virunga population currently numbers around 380 gorillas . Another census of the Bwindi gorilla population was carried out between April and June 2006 to determine the population's total size and structure, its distribution across Bwindi, and the potential impact of human disturbance on the population.
The results at the time showed show that the 5 habituated groups in Bwindi contained a total of 76 individuals at the time of the census. In addition to these, 25 unhabituated groups were found, containing 227 individuals along with 11 lone silverback males, giving a total uncorrected population count of 314 individuals.
Though gorillas have few natural predators, they are endangered due to the loss of habitat and forest clearing. They also fall victim to hunting for the wildlife trade, and through accidental snaring by poachers who are targeting antelopes for meat. Diseases that affect humans also pose a threat to apes and can spread quickly in such small populations.