Dian Fossey’s priceless attention to the plight of the great apes in the Virungas can never go unnoticed. She introduced critically endangered beasts to the world, and names like Sir David Attenborough forwarded the cause. Fossey devoted her life to studying gorillas and introduced active conservation that later became gorilla tourism. Gorilla tourism has extensively financed the conservation efforts to save the mighty apes.
Although populations have gradually recovered to about 1063 individuals in almost half a century, the species is still considered endangered to habitat loss, disease, and rampant poaching.
Mountain gorillas are the only wild great apes whose population is steadily increasing. Still, the densely populated human settlements surrounding their protected areas are the biggest threat to their existence. Communities living on the edge of the parks log the forests and expand their land for agriculture, pushing the forest dwellers deeper into smaller habitats. These communities are the poorest, often seeing the gorillas as competing for resources.
Gorillas share 98% of our DNA, with similar physiological features. They are highly susceptible to human diseases, yet they don’t have the same immunity we have developed. Consequently, exposing them to human viruses or illnesses can devastate entire gorilla species. The 2002 Ebola outbreak killed 5,000 gorillas in DR Congo. Human skin conditions like scabies and respiratory diseases are particularly contagious. At a point, they killed one gorilla in Bwindi and infected three others when they came in contact with a diseased neighbouring village.
Despite reducing tremendously, poaching mountain gorillas still significantly threatens their survival. Poaching mainly occurs when hunters set traps to catch other animals but injure gorillas. In June 2020, during the pandemic lockdown, a Porcher accidentally encountered a silverback while hunting bushmeat and stabbed it to death.
Today, mountain gorillas are a massive conservation priority in Uganda and neighbouring Rwanda—partly thanks to the bankable gorilla tourism industry.
Gorilla conservation efforts include enhanced policing of protected areas, community involvement, harsh penalties for poachers and traffickers, better veterinary care, and available livelihood alternatives for communities surrounding the gorilla reserves.
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