Mountain gorillas are one of those most sought after primates that dwell primarily within the Virunga region, an area that spans across three east African countries, namely Uganda, Rwanda, and D.R. Congo. A significant number is also found in Bwindi impenetrable national park, a prime gorilla habitat in southern Uganda.
There’s a total of only 1000 mountain gorillas currently left in the wild up from only 500 in the year 2003. Despite this rapid increase in their numbers, mountain gorillas remain on the verge of extinction if not properly conserved. A number of threats, mostly human beings continue to conflict with these mighty apes, especially regarding habitat loss and poaching. Below are some of the threats that have continued to cause danger to the survival of mountain gorillas.
Human encroachment by communities that live in and around gorilla destinations has posed a major threat to loss of their habitat. These communities continue to practice uncontrolled charcoal burning, logging, mining / quarrying activities, and subsistence farming. Therefore, the only way to save gorilla habitats is for government conservation to develop alternative economic activities to improve communities’ livelihood income other than competing with the gorillas for the same resources.
Most gorilla destinations neighbor farm lands have had issues to deal with human-gorilla conflicts, where gorilla escape from the forests to neighboring farmlands and encroach on people’s crops. This has created immense tension between the communities and gorillas, as people see gorillas as enemies, due to the fact that no compensation is made by concerned government bodies to these communities.
In revenge, people kill the mountain gorillas either by poisoning or using snares. Thanks to the recent construction of enclosures in gorilla destinations which previously faced this challenge.
Poaching for bush meat or pet trade
Mountain gorillas remain a major target for bush meat lovers and in cities and regions which consider bush meat as a luxurious and exclusive meal. Hunting for bush meat is still a common practice especially in the eastern Congo, Virunga national park an area which remains a territory for various militia groups.
Mountain gorillas are also hunted down and captured as trophies and sold through illegal trade, common in Asia where some of the gorillas’ body parts are used in traditional medicine and baby gorillas are traded as pets.
Continuous conflicts in the Eastern D. R. Congo has put significant pressure on the population of mountain gorillas in Virunga National Park, as well as rangers, guides and other conservation bodies. The 1994 Rwandan genocide saw an enormous number of refugees running to the Volcanoes national park to seek hideouts. These people started clearing the forests massively for cultivation, subsistence farming, causing the death of mountain gorillas in this park to almost a half.
Mountain gorillas also die because of diseases. Because of their weak immunity, mountain gorillas are susceptible to contagious diseases spread by human beings, such as cough, flu, cold and other airborne illnesses. A reason tourists are allowed to stay 7 meters away from gorillas during trekking. Outbreak of Ebola in central Africa has also been a recent threat to the lives of mountain gorillas.
Due to various conservation methods, mountain gorilla numbers seem to be sky rocketing in the recent past as shown by a 2018 gorilla census that portrays an increment of up to 24% in the population of mountain gorillas with in the Virunga region – a conservation area that spans across Uganda, Rwanda and D.R. Congo.
However despite this fact, more conservation efforts need to be employed so as to protect the many gorillas that still dwell in the wild. Various methods may include encouraging trans-boundary collaboration, community – tourism relationship, anti-poaching activities, ranger-based monitoring and habitat protection and expansion.