The preservation of the fragile habitats where gorillas live is essential for their survival.
The Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is owned by the Uganda Wildlife Authority, a parastatal government body. The park has total protection, although communities adjacent to the park can access some of its resources.
The areas bordering the park have a high population density of more than 300 people per square kilometer. Some of the people who live in these areas are among the poorest people in Uganda. The high population and poor agricultural practices place a great deal of pressure on Bwindi forest, and are one of the biggest threats to the park. 90% of the people are dependent on subsistence agriculture, as agriculture is one of the area’s few ways of earning income.
Prior to Bwindi’s gazetting as a national park in 1991, the park was designated as a forest reserve and regulations about the right to access the forest were more liberal and not often enforced. Local people hunted, mined, logged, pit sawed, and kept bees in the park. It was gazetted as a national park in 1991 because of its rich biodiversity and threats to the integrity of the forest. Its designation as a national park gave the park higher protection status.
State agencies increased protection and control of the park. Adjacent communities’ access to the forest immediately ended.
This closing of access caused large amounts of resentment and conflict among these local communities and park authorities. The Batwa, a group that has relied on the forest, were badly affected. The Batwa fished, harvested wild yams, wild honey and their ancestral sites were located in the park.
Despite the Batwa people’s historical claim to land rights and having lived in the area for generations without destroying the area’s ecosystem, they did not benefit from any national compensation scheme when they were evicted.
Non-Batwa farmers who had cut down the forested areas in order to cultivate them, received compensation and their land rights were recognised. People have lost livestock and crops from wildlife, and there have been some human deaths.
The habituation of gorillas to humans in order to facilitate tourism may have increased the damage they do to local people’s property because their fear of people has decreased.
Poaching Still Threatens Mountain Gorillas
Gorilla poaching | why gorillas are hunted?
Most of the threats lie within the majority of hunting and poaching, habitat destruction, climate change and infectious diseases that threaten the gorilla’s survival. During the early 20th century, the gorilla was shot for game (Berger 1985). This is due through the use of fetishes. These are cured animal parts collected and sold locally for their supposed magical powers. According to Berger 1985, many pounds of gorilla meat are used for consumption and are still prized by many local African cultures. Logging and deforestation seem to be the biggest problems in the survival of the gorillas.
Mountain gorillas are often the victims of poaching, deforestation and war. The film Virunga highlights the sensitivity of the gorillas and their habitat. Though mountain gorillas may seem to have a tough exterior, deep down they are sweet, gentle creatures who have difficulty adjusting to changes in their environment.
In the past the gorilla probably benefited from human activity. As villagers shifted their farms and allowed former pastures to return to secondary forest, which provides the plentiful ground cover (Dixson, 1981). Today most of the hunting is in the form of deforestation and logging (Dixson 1981). Logging means big money, especially in the form of mahogany and other hardwoods (Dixson 1981). The logging companies move deep into the forest, hiring locals to game hunt the gorilla. They then trap gorillas and the preserved flesh is then sent back to the big towns for consumption (MacDonald 1985). The main reason for the increased logging and hunting is the population growth of equatorial Africa. While the lowland gorilla is still relatively stable, the mountain gorillas of Rwanda and Zaire are surrounded by high population density of humans.
Although the borders of the gorillas’ distribution area seem to have changed little over the last few decades, the habitat of this ape species has been fragmented and encroached considerably as forested areas are increasingly reduced and isolated from each other by cultivation. From some regions gorillas have already disappeared altogether because the forest has been destroyed. Therefore they often are confined in small and isolated forest islands.
Gorillas can survive, only if humans can extend a helping hand. Most of the protection lies within governments taking action. Although there are laws and decrees, enforcement is very difficult and almost ineffective (MacDonald 1985). One major factor in the protection of the gorilla has been the national park system. Tourism in areas of Rwanda has raised money for the protection of the endangered species (MacDonald 1985). It is hoped that now, governments and local people can work together to provide a safe future for both gorillas and humankind.
The Uganda Wildlife Authority
The Uganda Wildlife Authority manages all the national parks in Uganda. Our staff are on hand to answer questions and help you plan your walks and activities.
Other Organizations Helping Gorilla Conservation
Since mountain gorillas are an endangered species of the wild, they do need our protection in order to keep in existence. Though mountain gorillas are very strong animals and can survive even in the harsh cold environments (they only reside in areas of high altitudes – 2000 to 2500 meters and above, the sea level), they are still very fragile creatures that need serious attention and care (that is why we have Gorilla Doctors caring for their health).
In order to play a role in the conservation, management, maintenance and protection of mountain gorillas, tourists / travellers are encouraged to donate money to the organizations working on ground for the wellbeing and conservation of these endangered species and the other wildlife.
There are several operating organizations with an aim of environmental conservation and wildlife protection and among these we have; MGVP (Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project), WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society) , The Gorilla Organization, (WWF) World Wildlife, ( AWF) African Wildlife Foundation, ( IGCP) the International Gorilla Conservation Programme and so many others. These organizations have spent decades working together to protect and conserve the area and ensure the gorilla population endures. Their efforts have helped increase the population of these endangered species in the world today and have increased to 15% so far. They work at obtaining the best effective methods for protecting mountain gorillas and some the minority organizations are usually surviving on grants and donations to run their activities and services for the animals’ interests.For example the IGCP (International Gorilla Conservation Programme and WWF (World Wide Fund) are always supporting African countries of DRC, Uganda and Rwanda for the wellbeing of nature in its natural form.
However, donors are advised to always evaluate the organizations for which they might be planning to provide aid. Tis evaluation and research can be done on the performance of the organization in archiving its mission and goals set for the well-being of mountain gorillas, research on the methods used by the organization to accomplish its established goals, organization’s history on the implementation of its works, what challenges is it facing in its implementation procedures, etc.
The Gorilla Doctors under MGVP, do nurture mountain gorillas and offer them direct life-saving medical care in the wild.
As a matter of fact, the current research has discovered that the work of the Gorilla Doctors together with that of thepark rangers and trackers ( in their anti-poaching efforts), have led to about to 40% of the growth of the human-habituated mountain gorilla population in the Virunga Ranges of Africa in de last decade.
To make donations, one can always visit the mountain gorilla conservation and protecting organizations.
Therefore, to contribute in the conservation and protection of mountain gorillas in the Virunga ranges of Africa, you are also encouraged to render support to the game rangers that always sacrifice to save animals in the wild, as a matter of fact, “ The wildlife Conservation Society has pledged a certain amount in the specialty of supporting game rangers and guards together with their families hence leading to an intensified security for the animals and their endurance from hungry human activities. (By saving the guards, the animals too are saved).
Conservation Through Public Health
Formed in 2002 and based in Uganda, Conservation Through Public Health provides a grass root approach to gorilla conservation: by enlightening communities living next to gorilla reserves that they have more to gain from participating in conservation efforts as opposed to trading in bushmeat (i.e.,receiving part of the proceeds from park revenues and opportunities to establish tourist-driven businesses) and that by addressing health issues (many human diseases are transmittable to gorillas) they are protecting that investment.
The Gorilla Foundation
Established in 1976, The Gorilla Foundation has been promoting public awareness about the plight of the gorillas through, amongst others, Koko the gorilla who communicates via sign language. The Gorilla Foundation is currently involved in an ambitious project to provide a secluded 70-acre reserve in Maui that simulates the natural habitats gorillas reside in, in Africa.