Rations for rangers protecting the last gorillas below the mist
With intelligence behind a pair of big, brown eyes, a gentle demeanour, and good days and bad days, gorillas have qualities that mirror many of us. The mountain gorillas of Rwanda, celebrated in the late Dian Fossey’s famous book ‘Gorillas in the Mist’, are what many would be most familiar with when they think about these apes.
However, few are aware that the gorilla is found across much of Central and West Africa and is split into two species: the Eastern gorilla and the Western gorilla. Each species has two subspecies of its own, with the more familiar Mountain gorilla and the Grauer’s gorilla making up the Eastern gorilla, and the Western lowland gorilla and the Cross River gorilla comprising the Western species. All are classed as Critically Endangered except for the Mountain gorilla, which, thanks to successful long-term conservation efforts, has recovered from fewer than 250 individuals to more than 1,000. The rarest subspecies today is the secretive Cross River gorilla. Once thought to be extinct, experts now estimate that there are fewer than 300 individuals living in forests straddling the border of Cameroon and Nigeria.
The Grauer’s gorilla, which this grant focused on, is endemic to the rainforests of the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). It is the largest great ape in the world with a particularly stocky build and large hands. Unfortunately, as with other gorillas, this has not stopped it from being threatened by humans. Habitat loss, armed conflict, bushmeat poaching and mining for rare metals have all contributed. The global population has fallen to fewer than 6,800 whilst the population at Mt Tshiaberimu in Virunga National Park has shrunk from more than 25 to six – the world’s smallest gorilla population. These gorillas have been particularly vulnerable to illegal land invasions, armed group deployment, and disease transmission (even our common colds can prove fatal to a gorilla). Isolated from other populations to the west, efforts are needed to protect these last, precious individuals, so that the population has the chance to recover.
To make this a possibility, Virunga Foundation – a UK-based charity founded in 2005 – has been assisting the DRC’s Wildlife Authority in the management and rehabilitation of the Park. The Foundation is committed to the restoration of Virunga’s ecosystems and ensuring their effective management, securing the Park’s financial sustainability, and ensuring the Park contributes to the stability of the region and is a beneficial asset for local communities. Deploying rangers to Mt Tshiaberimu has acted as the best line of defence. Therefore, ensuring they remain supported and fully operational has been key to keeping these gorillas safe.
Mt Tshiaberimu’s 3,100m high peak is surrounded by a mix of habitats including primary and secondary forests, bamboo and subalpine vegetation. Working in this remote area is tough and rangers are deployed for long periods of time. Thanks to support from ForRangers, six months’ worth of rations for 30 rangers were purchased, sustaining the team whilst they’re on duty. The rations are acquired locally and often consist of meat, fish, beans, rice, coffee, potatoes, salt and coffee. Jacques Katutu, Head of Gorilla Monitoring and Ranger at Virunga National Park, commented on their importance:
“The threats to Mt Tshiaberimu and the gorillas found there are many. It is not a place to fall asleep, especially because the gorilla population there is so vulnerable. Tracking these animals requires patience and a lot of energy. Most patrols take all day, so having the nutritional support necessary to physically take on long distances is imperative.”
The provisions of these rations supported rangers to carry out 360 foot patrols, covering a staggering 4,000 km in the process. Their presence has helped to secure the area, reducing the occurrence of harmful activities such as bamboo and timber harvesting, agricultural expansion, and armed group movements. In addition, they have helped other important staff members including veterinarians and researchers to safely to carry out their work.
Furthermore, the gorillas have become more tolerant of the rangers’ presence, enabling the team to gather important data about the gorillas’ population and behaviour. All this hard-fought effort has been rewarded and during the project period, a new baby was born, boosting this treasured troop from six to seven. The baby is still young, and its sex is yet to be determined, however, it is certainly a promising indication that this project is working.
Gorilla conservation is highly complex. These greatest of apes are often found in countries with issues of insecurity and socioeconomic problems, hindering any conservation efforts to protect them and their habitats, and the DRC is no different. But gorilla populations have recovered well before against the odds, as demonstrated by the Mountain gorillas in Virunga as well as Rwanda and Uganda. With the support of donors and fund-raisers such as you, we will be able to provide more support to projects like this one.
Your donations and fundraising helped make this grant possible, but that’s not all you can do to help conserve these incredible animals. Simple actions, including carefully disposing of old electronic devices, makes a significant difference. Recycling of the precious metals within these devices reduces the necessity for new raw materials to be mined in the remaining forests of the Congo Basin that these intelligent apes call home. Thank you.