A glimpse at the wild mountain gorillas is one of the most splendid and sought-after experiences by trekkers in the world. Despite the remarkable experiences with these magnificent creatures, their survival on earth today is highly at risk of extinction and thus there is a need to protect them for both current and future generations. Mountain gorillas are listed as the world’s critically endangered species and this is based on the fact that their population in Africa’s jungles is drastically decreasing. Currently, there are nearly 900 mountain gorillas in the world and they are only protected in the misty jungles of Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Before, the idea of mountain gorilla conservation wasn’t heard in the world until that time when Dian Fossey traveled to Africa for her research. Dian Fossey, the best-known zoologist in the world, became an icon of mountain gorilla conservation in the 1960s and it is from this that these creatures were saved through active conservation, led campaigns to eradicate the crucial threats which in turn could lead to the extinction of these rare species on earth. It is from this that today several measures have been devised to protect mountain gorillas.
Some of the crucial threats to mountain gorillas include poaching, political instability, gorilla trafficking, infectious diseases, habitat loss, and fragmentation. These threats are the main cause of the reduced mountain gorilla population today. In order to curb down these threats, anti-poaching measures had to be devised to keep poachers away from the forest where these species are protected from and one of the best ways is through gorilla tourism. Given the fact that many of these poachers are local community residents themselves, it was necessary to ensure economic development projects and supportive relationships. This, in turn, can help to keep off the poachers and encroachers from gorilla habitat and this will ensure longer survival of these species in the wild although they are still endangered. In addition, Uganda, Rwanda, and DRC jointly established the Special Wildlife Integrated Protection Force (SWIFT) mainly to escalate armed manpower in and around conservation areas and enforce laws.
It is from these endeavors that many people also got to know the need to conserve mountain gorillas especially in the famous movie “Gorillas in the Mist.” This didn’t only create awareness in the local communities alone but also across international borders and in turn attracted numerous conservation organizations that responded positively for instance gorilla doctors. Today, there are numerous gorilla doctors who assist to treat these species in the wild. Normally, mountain gorillas suffer from very critical injuries that they get from wire snares which are targeted to hunt down antelopes as well as buffaloes.
Some of the mountain gorillas incur gravely wounded at a time when they can be fighting amongst themselves and others can be having critical conditions such as respiratory sickness which they often get from human beings. Mountain gorillas are very susceptible to human infectious diseases since they share nearly 98% of their genes with humans. The work of mountain gorilla doctors is basically to monitor the health of critical species while in the wild, treat those that are ill, or carry out a postmortem on those that die to ascertain what killed them. Tourists and other stakeholders are therefore advised to keep some distance (approximately 7 meters) from gorillas so as to reduce the risk of human gorilla contact and in turn reduce the spread of infectious diseases.
As well, the mountain gorilla organizations and gorilla veterinary projects also assist in vaccinating domestic dogs, cats, cattle, and goats to minimize infectious diseases like rabies. Encouraging local community residents to have good hygiene is another way through which the park management in respective countries has tried to curb down the spread of human diseases to mountain gorillas in the wild.
Various governments have also joined hands through partnerships with local community residents around the national parks and international conservation organizations. This has helped in devising the most active conservation policies and measures which in turn will help to save mountain gorillas. It is from this that a legally binding agreement known as “the gorilla agreement” whereby 10 states agreed and established measures to restrain the threats and protect mountain gorillas through strategies like; protection of mountain gorilla habitats through effective transboundary management, supporting the local communities around the national parks through development projects and alternative resources. The main aim of all this was to ensure zero tolerance to poaching and gorilla trafficking or any of their products.
Protection of mountain gorilla habitat has been ensured through the establishment of gorilla national parks that turned into ecotourism destinations. It is from this that today, there are range-based monitoring systems that were implemented to keep on monitoring mountain gorillas through the deployment of park rangers and guides. This has ensured the protection of not only mountain gorillas but also other wildlife species that live within the same habitat.
Since mountain gorilla trekking is the main reason why thousands of people travel to Africa, an increase in gorilla safaris helps to generate foreign exchange through purchased gorilla trekking permits by trekkers which in turn helps to facilitate the conservation of these critically endangered species. Because of gorilla tourism, revenue sharing program was also introduced where Uganda gives 20% of the park entry fees to the local community and in Rwanda 10%. This money is meant to establish community development projects like sustainable farming and water projects around Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda. This has helped to create the best alternatives to bushmeat, wild honey, timber harvesting especially through domestic animal keeping projects, vegetable growing, beekeeping, tree planting, and clean water. These projects help in minimizing the pressure on the forests.
In conclusion, mountain gorilla protection needs both domestic and international support, active law enforcement, conservation policies as well as constant sensitization and education so as to create awareness not only in local grounds but travelers to understand the value of gorillas conservation.