The most-effective conservation strategy is direct, sustained protection of wild animal populations.
Decades of daily direct protection have saved mountain gorillas from the brink of extinction and stabilized their tiny population. We have now expanded the same methods to help save nearby critically endangered Grauer’s gorillas, which have experienced dramatic declines in the last few decades. We know from our decades of research that this daily protection is critical to conservation success.
Protecting Mountain Gorillas in Rwanda
Mountain gorillas have been monitored and studied closely since Dian Fossey began her work in 1967. She started the process of habituating them to the presence of human observers, so that she could closely observe and document their behaviors, diet, habitat needs, and other important information. Today, Fossey Fund trackers and researchers protect roughly half of all the mountain gorilla group families in Rwanda. Click here to read a story about one of the main gorilla groups we follow daily.
We have shown, using our database of more than 55 years, that this type of daily presence in the forests is what is needed to protect these gorilla populations from the many threats they face, as well as to collect the information that is needed to provide the most-effective conservation strategies. Our tracker teams serve the role of both protection and data collection and are the key factor in saving the mountain gorilla population. Click here for a story about saving young gorilla Fasha from a snare.
Each morning, Fossey Fund trackers locate their assigned gorilla group by finding where the gorillas built their night nests and then following the trail of crushed vegetation left behind as the group moved away in the morning. After finding the group and recording its location, our trackers locate each individual in the group and record information on general appearance and health, and any change in group composition due to births, deaths, immigration or emigration, in order to track the population’s dynamics. In addition, our researchers collect detailed information on behavior for our long-term gorilla research database and specific studies. This type of detailed data collection is possible because the gorillas are accustomed to human presence – what scientists call “habituated.”
To see what we learn about the mountain gorillas from our monitoring, click here.
In Rwanda, the Fossey Fund also has dedicated anti-poaching teams, which patrol specific sectors of the gorilla habitat to look for and guard against illegal activities in the forest, especially poacher activity, such as snares set to entrap animals. These snares are intended for antelopes and small game animals, but they can cause serious injury or death to gorillas as well.
Protecting Grauer’s Gorillas in Congo
Grauer’s gorillas are found only in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and, unlike their mountain gorilla cousins, are rapidly declining – more than 60% have been lost, primarily to poaching, in the last few decades. Since most Grauer’s gorillas live outside national parks, engaging local communities in conservation efforts is essential.
In 2012, the Fossey Fund set up a research and conservation field station in the village of Nkuba at the edge of a pristine forest and conducted intensive surveys of the area to analyze the status of Grauer’s gorillas and other large mammals in the region. Now formally named the Nkuba Conservation Area, we work here with many local families to protect more than 600,000 acres of forest, hundreds of Grauer’s gorillas, chimpanzees, forest elephants, leopards and many other important species.
Unlike in Rwanda, where the gorillas are only a several-hour hike from the edge of the park, the gorillas of Nkuba are located deep in the forest, requiring our trackers to walk several days to reach them. As a result, these trackers camp for weeks at a time to protect this vast area. These gorillas are not habituated to the presence of humans so our trackers follow them from behind at a one-day distance, using nest sites, food remains, footprints and other methods to detect their presence, numbers, travel paths, diets and other important information.
Click here to read a story about one of our Congolese trackers, who was originally a hunter in the forest.