The Virunga Massif is known to have one of the largest mountain gorilla populations in the world and now researchers will discover just how many individuals actually reside in the area with a new gorilla census due to be released in 2017.
The Virunga conservation region, also called the Virunga Massif, is home to over 50% of the total mountain gorilla population that covers the Virunga National Park, Mgahinga National Park and Volcanoes National Park.
With only an estimation of population numbers from the previous gorilla census, today it’s unknown exactly how many mountain gorillas are left within the Virunga Massif region. This year, the Greater Virunga Transboundary Collaboration (GVTC) – a collaboration between concerned government bodies including the Rwanda Development Board (RDB), Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) and the I’Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature of Congo – are taking up management and running the gorilla census in the Virunga area.
The first phase of the gorilla census started in October 2015, with data and sample collection. The second phase looks at validating the accuracy of data and samples collected from the field, as well as analysing demographics, including the age and sex ratio, the size and number of gorilla groups, and surrounding habitat and water sources.
This recent census aims to find accurate population figures by using advanced technologies and DNA samples, unlike previous years’ findings which were arrived at through estimations. A look at the previous gorilla census shows an estimate of 480 individuals in 2010, including 14 silverbacks, while in 2011 another census carried out in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest discovered an estimate of 400 individuals and 16 silverbacks.
The new gorilla census is looking at investigating every aspect surrounding the lives of gorillas so as to implement tactics to help protect and conserve mountain gorilla populations.
How the census takes place
This year’s census set off from the southern part of the Massif in Rwanda and will end on the Ugandan side of Mgahinga National Park. There will be different teams of data collectors in the forest in constant contact with each other.
Trained data entrants are sent into the forest in search of raw data, which involves following individual gorilla trails until a nest site or temporary sleeping area is located.
Once the data entrants discover a single gorilla nest, they collect a dung sample which will show when gorillas last slept in that particular nest. The data collectors can then conclude, using age classification data, whether an adult male, medium range or baby gorilla was in the nest.
The gorilla census in the Virunga Massif region aims at effectively setting a reliable conservation plan for the mountain gorillas in the area. As gorilla tourism expands with the increasing number of tourists coming for gorilla trekking in Africa, it’s necessary to plan for the higher numbers of gorillas so that they are well protected in terms of medical treatment, habitant preservation and security.