Gorillas in the Mix

Grauer's Gorilla Photo
An infant Grauer's gorilla takes a ride on its mother's back in Congo's Kahuzi-Biega National Park.
A. Plumptre/Wildlife Conservation Society

Out of the war-torn nation of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), a group of Grauer's gorillas has delivered some rare good news. Despite years of violence and political instability that have taken a toll on many of the West African country's human and animal residents, the gorillas are growing in number.

WCS researchers recently censused the Grauer's population in Kahuzi-Biega National Park. Last surveyed in 2004, the population stood at 168 individuals. Now, there are 181. It's a small but significant triumph for a population numbering fewer than 4,000 individuals in total.

"Given we were unable to survey the entire highland sector, we are hopeful that our minimum count of 181 might actually be higher than this," said Dr. Andy Plumptre, director of WCS's Albertine Rift program. "We hope to be able to survey some of the areas we were unable to visit in the near future."

The census team, led by WCS and the Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN), covered more than 230 square miles of forested and mountainous terrain. While the lowland section of the park remained too insecure for the team to enter, they were able to survey the highland areas.

"We had several close calls with armed militias during the survey," said Deo Kujirakwinja, WCS's Albertine Rift coordinator in DRC. "Thankfully, no one was hurt, and our census result is positive news for the conservation community."

Each night a gorilla makes a nest to sleep in. By counting fresh nests, the team was able to estimate how many of the primates were in a certain area. In addition to the nest surveys, the researchers collected and analyzed dung samples to decipher how many of these gorillas were adults, juveniles, and infants.

Grauer's gorillas (also called eastern lowland gorillas) are the largest gorilla subspecies, weighing up to 500 pounds. They are big, and they are mysterious. Scientists have been unable to conduct much research on these animals, in large part due to the tumultuous environs in which they live. Even so, WCS—one of the only conservation groups working to protect all four gorilla subspecies—felt compelled to see how they were doing.

"This census finding gives us great hope for the future of the Grauer's gorilla," said Dr. James Deutsch, director of WCS-Africa. "It's also a testament to the courage of our colleagues working to protect a World Heritage site in this challenging landscape."

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