Fossey Fund Trackers
Today, the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund has more than 100 dedicated gorilla trackers, who monitor and protect two types of eastern gorillas in Africa: mountain gorillas in Rwanda and Grauer’s gorillas in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. Both types are now classified as “critically endangered,” due to their small numbers and the threats to their habitats, but our protection is stabilizing their numbers. We have shown, using our 50-year database, 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.
Monitoring and Protecting Mountain Gorillas in Rwanda
Mountain gorillas have been monitored and studied closely since Dian Fossey began her work with them in 1967, after establishing the Karisoke Research Center. She started the process of habituating them to the presence of human observers, so that she could closely observe and document their behaviors, status, movements and other important information. Today, Fossey Fund trackers and researchers protect and study about half of the mountain gorillas in Rwanda.
To learn more about the Karisoke Research Center, click here.
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 began moving 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 dynamics. In addition, 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 gorillas from our monitoring, click here.
Tracker teams serve the role of both protection and data collection and are the key factor in saving the mountain gorilla population.
In Rwanda, the Fossey Fund also has dedicated anti-poaching teams, which patrol specific sectors of the gorilla habitat to seek and guard against illegal activities in the forest, especially poacher activity, such as snares set to entrap animals. The snares are intended for antelopes and small game animals, but can cause serious injury or death to gorillas as well. Our anti-poaching teams also record other illegal activities in the forest, such as wood cutting or water collection. All such information is provided to park management, and used to determine the best methods for protecting the forest.
Monitoring and Protecting Grauer’s Gorillas in Congo
Unlike the mountain gorillas, most of the Grauer’s gorillas we work with in Congo have not been extensively protected or studied, except for a small number in one of the national parks operated by the Congolese wildlife authorities (ICCN).
The Fossey Fund began helping to protect Grauer’s gorillas in Congo in 2001, by working with local communities to establish a series of community-managed forests. We felt this was critically important because the majority of Grauer’s gorillas live outside of formally protected areas. However, due to their continued rapid decline, primarily from hunting, it became clear that these gorillas also required direct daily protection.
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 began intensive surveys of the area to analyze the status of Grauer’s gorillas and other large mammals in the region. At least 100-150 gorillas were located in one forest block, and the presence of additional gorillas has now also been documented in a contiguous forest.
The Fossey Fund is now monitoring and studying these Grauer’s gorillas daily, which provides critical protection as well as the data needed to develop effective conservation strategies. Our long-term goal is to double the number of Grauer’s gorillas receiving such protection over the next 3-5 years, which would cover about 10 percent of the entire remaining population.
Since these gorillas are not habituated to the presence of humans, and should remain unhabituated for their own safety, Fossey Fund trackers follow them at one day’s distance, using nest sites, food remains, footprints and other methods to detect their presence, numbers, travel paths, diets and other important information.
Gorilla Protection Includes Involvement of Local Communities
A key feature of the Fossey Fund’s work in protecting gorillas is the involvement of local communities, including nearby villages, schools, governmental authorities and traditional landowners.
In both Rwanda and Congo, all of our field staff are hired from local communities, and provided with training and educational opportunities. We also provide educational programs for local universities, schools and communities, as well as health and livelihood programs. This multi-faceted conservation model helps people and wildlife thrive together.