What are the biggest threats to mountain gorillas?
What are the biggest threats to mountain gorillas? Although mountain gorillas are considered to be large and fearless apes, the survival of these unique primate species is under threat due to a number of reasons as shall be discussed in this article.
Mountain gorillas are one of the top tourism attractions in Africa, with gorilla tours attracting more than 3,000 visitors per year. Countries harboring mountain gorillas like Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, earn millions in revenue from gorilla safaris alone.
The recent gorilla census that was carried out in 2018 to determine the number of mountain gorillas in the Virunga Conservation Area and Bwindi-Sarambwe eco-reserve, shows that there has been a significant increase in mountain gorilla populations. The survey shows that there are about 1,004 mountain gorillas left in the wild, which is a great improvement as compared to the past.
However, the survival of mountain gorillas in the world is still under threat, with the species still being marked as an endangered species under the IUCN Red List of endangered species. Other species such as the western and eastern lowland gorillas, and cross river gorillas are listed as a critically endangered species. So, this leaves us with the question: what are some of the biggest threats to mountain gorillas?
Poaching is one of the biggest threats to the survival of mountain gorillas in Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Poaching of mountain gorillas is further exacerbated by factors such as; high rates of unemployment and poverty. Research has proved that most of the criminals who have been arrested for the crime of poaching are unemployed and poor. In a bid to make quick and easy money, they resort to killing gorillas and sell their meat and other body parts to the highest bidder on the black market.
Poaching of gorillas is also fueled by the high demand for their bush meat, especially in central and West African countries. In these countries, families that are able to consume such bush meat are considered to be wealthy and of a higher social status/ranking in society.
Culture in some of these central and West African countries also play a part in the poaching of mountain gorillas. According to some of these cultures, killing or hunting gorillas (trophy hunting), is regarded as a rite of passage from the ancestors unto the young generation. It is such cultural norms and practices that make these poachers think that they have a right to kill gorillas.
However, with strict anti-poaching laws and enforcement of the laws in the respective countries affected by the vice, the rate of poaching of mountain gorillas has greatly reduced. In addition to this, the concerned governments in these countries have embarked on aggressive conservation projects where the local people are being sensitized on the importance and benefits of protecting and conserving mountain gorillas for the generations to come. One good example of this is the Iby’iwacu cultural village in Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, where most of the members of this community are reformed poachers who now actively take part in conservation projects in the national park.
- Habitat Loss:
Another factor greatly affecting the survival of mountain gorillas is habitat loss. Mountain gorillas mainly inhabit tropical rainforests and montane forests, in altitudes measuring between 650 to 4,000 meters above sea level. The major catalyst for habitat loss is encroachment on mountain gorilla habitats. With an increase in human populations, more people are encroaching on forests for settlement, farming, and animal rearing. In addition to this, there is large-scale deforestation that is taking place in forests as more trees are being cut down for charcoal burning and firewood. Over 30% of forest cover is being lost as a result of large scale deforestation.
With green earth campaigns and conservation projects in motion, most governments like Uganda, Rwanda and Congo are now on board, and are taking action in order to curb the increased rate of deforestation. Most forests are now ranked as protected areas, charcoal burning has been banned in countries like Uganda and Rwanda, and logging companies have been mandated to practice re-afforestation; where for every tree cut, five should be planted.
- Civil Wars:
Civil wars that have broken out in areas where mountain gorillas inhabit, have also contributed to the some of the threats to mountain gorillas. In some war stricken countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, civil wars between rebel militia and the government forces have seen some mountain gorillas killed in the cross fires. Also, the 1994 Rwanda Genocide saw a large number of refugees and rebel militia moving into the neighboring Congo. With the rebels building their bases in forests where these gorillas live, majority of the conservation work in the national parks like Virunga national park and Kahuzi-Biega national park came to a standstill. Many gorillas were killed in the cross fire and also by civilians for their bush meat.
However, the end of the 1994 Rwanda Genocide as seen some peace and stability reinstated in Congo and in Virunga and Kahuzi-Biega national parks. As a matter of fact, gorilla trekking tours are safely conducted in these two national parks, with Virunga National Park being at the top for gorilla tours in Congo.
Diseases such as Ebola have contributed to the threats of mountain gorillas in Africa. The fact that mountain gorillas share about 98% of their DNA with humans, means that they are susceptible to acquiring the same diseases that affect human beings such as a common flu/ influenza, cough, pneumonia and even Ebola. The 2004 Ebola outbreak in Congo saw almost half of the population of mountain gorillas dying from the disease virus. It is for this specific reason that tourists trekking mountain gorillas in Virunga national park in Congo are required to wear a mask when in the presence of the mountain gorillas. Also, individuals who have illnesses such as flu or cough are not allowed to trek mountain gorillas in the park, as a way of preventing the spread of the virus disease to the gorillas.
Aside from the above major threats, there are also other threats to mountain gorillas such as; low birth rates, and forest fires among others.
Visitors interested in seeing mountain gorillas in their natural habitats can book a gorilla tour to Uganda, Rwanda or the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is advisable that you book your gorilla safari through a trusted travel agent or tour operator company like Explore Rwanda Tours, Achieve Global Safaris or Focus East Africa Tours.
Also make sure that you book a gorilla trekking permit at least 6 months in advance at a fee of USD 1500 dollars in Rwanda, USD 700 and USD 600 dollars in Uganda and USD 400 dollars in Congo. Bookings for gorilla trekking permits can be made for up to two years in advance.
Please note that gorilla trekking tours in Uganda, Rwanda and Congo are restricted to only individuals who are aged 15 years and above. Also make sure that you are in perfect health condition prior to your gorilla trekking tour or activity.