In Wake of Gorilla Murders, Isolated Group Offers Hope

Stefan Lovgren
for National Geographic News
July 9, 2008

For the world's last remaining mountain gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei), there is little room to move.

Numbering only about 700, these great apes are split into two populations and confined to two separate areas, both located in one of the most densely populated—and troubled—regions of Africa.

More than half live in the Virunga highlands that straddle the border of Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The remaining 300 gorillas find refuge in the isolated forest of Uganda's Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, just 15 miles (24 kilometers) north of the Virunga mountains.

Bwindi and the Virungas boast some of the highest biodiversity in Africa, providing habitat for myriad mammals, birds, butterflies, and frogs.

But the parks, particularly those in the Virunga mountains, have suffered through genocide, armed rebel incursions, rampant poaching, and constant pressure from millions of land-starved villagers whose subsistence farms push right up against the gorilla sanctuaries. (Read more about the situation in the Virungas.)

In this unstable environment, Bwindi stands out as relatively secure. Here, wildlife rangers can safely patrol the forest and researchers have the luxury of spending time monitoring the gorillas—unlike in Virunga National Park, where warring militias have appropriated parkland and forced gorillas into the cross fire.

However, Bwindi gorillas aren't home free. "In Bwindi, I would like to say we can be optimistic for conservation, but not complacent," says conservation biologist Martha Robbins, who has studied the critically endangered animals in Bwindi for the past decade.

"The key conservation activities are more or less the same [in both Bwindi and the Virunga parks]," Robbins says.

Conservationists are trying to tackle poaching, reduce other illegal activities, encourage responsible ecotourism, and provide programs for improving the economic situation for people who live around the park, Robbins says.

Where Bwindi and the Virungas differ, she explains, is in their ecology, or the ways in which the gorilla populations can grow.

Constant Pressure

Continued on Next Page >>


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