For those of you who have never seen mountain gorillas in person, it an experience which changes your life.
Here are some photos to plant the seed of your own commitment to protecting the mountain gorillas. Knowledge leads to compassion which leads to ACTION.
Just try and imagine you are sweaty with legs somewhat tired from the trek up the mountain and a mind full of anxious expectations of really seeing the gorillas. Expectations from perhaps a lifetime dream of traveling to Africa, from watching numerous documentaries, or from hearing friends like me wax on about the gentle apes and their conservation crises. I defy anyone not to have their own hair-raising reaction to at first the smell and then the sight of a mountain gorillas. It causes goose-bumps, makes you push and shove for good photo opportunities because you just must have your own documentation that you were really there, until you finally relax and just breathe in the spicey odours and your heart secretly smiles with each throaty rumble and just remain transfixed on every movement of every gorilla present. I was always aware that I was in their presence, in their kingdom, it brings out all the national geographic type monologue you can imagine! It is overwhelming and humbling and definitely results in a greater personal commitment to protect mountain gorillas. Seeing the gorillas makes the world seem like a better place, a REAL place, until you remember their own crisis.
There is a distinct possibility that the subspecies could experience a 25% reduction in the next 20 years. If the mountain gorillas were exposed to the main disease risks or war scenarios, populations would be predicted to decline over time with a measurable risk of extinction within 100 years.
If you make this trip, you surely would notice that all the forest outside of the various national parks is gone, and while the tea plantations make for dramatic photos of interesting light and line, they are not habitat. These areas of Rwanda, Uganda and DRC have the highest human densities within Africa. There are profound poverty alleviation and development needs. The mountain gorilla occurs in two known populations within three countries, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Uganda. These two populations live almost entirely within National Parks. One population of 380 individuals is spread within the 425km2 habitat of the extinct volcanoes of the Virunga Massif occurring across the three state boundaries. These gorillas are protected officially within Virunga National Park in Democratic Republic of Congo, in Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda. The second population of 340 individuals is found mainly in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (215km2), Uganda. The two areas are separated by 25km of farmland.
Most of what we know about gorillas is from the long-term studies of mountain gorillas, as started by George Schaller and Dian Fossey. The recent killings of mountain gorillas in 2007 and 2008 eliminated animals of known name with often known family life histories. With each animal lost we lose more opportunities to better understand the gorillas. And of course each individual gorilla deserves a natural life of minimal disturbance in the small bits of remaining forest. The mountain gorillas in DRC are living in a literal warzone. Military groups are battling to control the valuable natural resources present in this and other National Parks in the Albertine Rift.
We have heard all the campaigns before: man-eating gorilla, gorillas not guerillas etc etc. But check out the donation options, read the main blog of the rangers working in Virunga National Park battling to protect gorillas and gorilla habitat. 128 rangers have lost their lives due to warfare, while on duty to protect the mountain gorillas!
check out these sites for more media coverage on the compelling story:
http://edition.cnn.com/2007/WORLD/africa… (a team from Virunga National Park were also on Larry King Live on CNN)
Salut!!! I spent all my years dreaming about apes and Africa and finally made the voyage to Cameroon in 1999 and have been bumping around great ape range states ever since, working for the Jane Goodall Institute and WWF mainly in programme coordination roles. I first saw the mountain gorillas in Rwanda and Uganda in 2002 and it was a very emotional dream come true despite all the time already spent in Africa. I am now very interested in big picture, political ecology type problems about how to do more effective conservation of great apes in the complex social, political and economic environments in which they reside. I am very interested in expanding my experience in eastern DRC and working in the region through PhD and other technical positions.