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
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.
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.
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."
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
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."