The mountain gorilla population is recovering greatly – thanks to the efficient conservation programmes of the last thirty years, the population of the mountain gorillas has been steadily increasing in the Virunga forest, especially in Volcanoes National Park, while there were only about 250 in the 1960”s, their total population currently amounts to 480 animals (census 2010). But they remain one of the most threatened species in the world, due to their reduced numbers and reduced habitat, and this is why intense conservation efforts will need to be continued in the future.
Please note that it is not possible to book specific groups of gorillas in advance. Visitors will be allocated to a group the day of the hike.
As mountain gorillas can catch many human diseases, strict rules have been set up for visitors, one single spread of an epidemic disease could quickly wipe out most of the population. Gorilla tourism has actually saved the mountain gorillas in the Virunga forest up to now. It should in no way became a threat to these fascinating creatures.
The Rwandan Gorilla Project
The Rwandan Gorilla Project was set up to combine conservation of the mountain gorilla in the Virunga Volcanoes of Rwanda in Central Africa with community development and upmarket tourism. It provided sponsors with an opportunity to support a programme of well-researched community projects that are helping to conserve the gorillas and the option of an exclusive safari to Rwanda to see the gorillas and the work being funded (but see now below). It was organised and initially funded by volunteers with a background that spans the City/finance and conservation.
There is continuing pressure on mountain gorillas and their habitat in the montane forests of the Virunga Volcanoes. Despite the encouraging results of a recent census which found numbers to have increased by 17 percent since 1989, the overall population is still only about 360 individuals. The threat posed to their survival by poaching, human encroachment/habitat loss, disease and the effects of regional instability are very real and pressing.
The key to protecting these forests, the gorillas and the other wildlife the forest supports – specifically within Rwanda’s Parc National des Volcans – is the need to ensure that local communities support their conservation and benefit from it. This programme therefore provides assistance to those communities. All money raised will go direct to the projects without deduction of any fund raising or other costs.
The option for donors to visit Rwanda to see for themselves the work of the International Gorilla Conservation Programme through this project has now closed. Visits of this sort for significant donors are still available through the Conservation Circle programme run by Fauna and Flora International. Trips to see the gorillas can also be organized by several tour operators that have been listed on this website. Please look at the rest of the website as the work described is continuing and donations may still be made to support it. Over £52,000 has been raised to date.
The organisers of the Rwandan Gorilla Project combine experience in the City and venture capital with knowledge of Africa and conservation. They have done extensive work on ensuring that very capable people manage the projects on the ground. Hence the fieldwork is being carried out by the International Gorilla Conservation Programme (IGCP). It is a key organization in gorilla conservation, bringing together many very highly experienced and dedicated people.
The IGCP dates from 1978 when its precursor, the “Mountain Gorilla Project”, started and out of which it grew in 1989. It is run from Nairobi, Kenya. The IGCP’s activities span all mountain gorilla territories and in the Virungas it is working with or directly funding the park authorities, promoting regional co-operation, working at a policy level (with the United Nations, for example) and supporting communities round the park.
The IGCP is supported by a consortium of three organizations – the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF), Fauna and Flora International (FFI) and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). FFI is the key UK element. It is based in Cambridge, is over 100 years old and has as its Patron Her Majesty the Queen. It is now running the Conservation Circle Programme for those donors who would like to visit the various projects FFI manages. For details of that please contact Liz Eaton on 01223 571000.
Further information on the IGCP, FFI and the organisers of the whole project can be found in the documents available for download or on the IGCP and FFI websites.
Dian Fossey through her gorillas in the mist largely contributed to conserving mountain gorillas from 1967 to 1984. Earlier, George Schaller in 1959 had conducted a pioneer study of these apes that paved the way for the current global attention on conservation of gorilla and their habitats.
From 1902 when gorillas were discovered by a German explorer Oscar Von Beringe to the arrival of Dian Fossey in Rwanda during the 1960’s, the most extensive poaching and habitat loss of mountain gorillas occurred.
While the killing of gorillas was mounting, Dian Fossey began the most extensive research study of gorilla behavior first in DRC and later in Rwanda where she permanently established karisoke research camp. She began helping gorillas, but the species were almost extinct.
Dian Fossey’s team of locals and research students revealed ecological, social and health life of gorillas during the years she spent in the forests. Few groups of mountain gorillas were habituated so people would get close to gorillas and it helped to portray gorillas as peaceful animals.
Conservation organizations came together and agreed upon strict conservation of mountain gorillas including their counterparts the lowland gorillas in eastern DRC. This time the International Gorilla Conservation Program was formed in 1991 from the mountain gorilla project as well as using technology like installation of ranger monitoring stations.
The main aim of the IGCP is to collaborate with wildlife protection institutes in Rwanda, Uganda and DRC and other stakeholders to conserve mountain gorillas and their habitats as well as developing the local communities. This would reduce dependence on natural resources.
By the 1990’s gorilla trekking became more and more popular as a result human contact with gorillas led to increase in death of gorillas from human respiratory and infectious diseases like influenza and diarrhea.
With an emerging threat of human diseases due to unregulated human interaction with gorillas in their natural habitats. There was need to find a solution to monitor the health and also intervene to cure sick or injured gorillas. The gorilla doctor’s project was formed in 2006. Earlier the UN had formed the great apes survival partnership in 2001. Both collaborate to ensure survival of gorillas.
Gorilla Doctors (mountain gorilla veterinary project)
The IGCP had gained support from local people and other partners also embraced gorilla tourism to generate money and fund bigger projects like mountain gorilla veterinary doctors to save gorillas dying from human diseases.
The project was necessary because in 1980’s gorilla numbers were below 500 and there was no any solution to death of gorillas due to human diseases. MGVP collaborates with other international and local health organizations to ensure good health of both mountain and lowland gorillas as well as that of the communities and their animals living around the gorillas.
Research carried out by the gorilla doctors and other scientists who operate daily monitoring gorilla health in DRC, Rwanda and Uganda showed proof scenarios where gorillas died from human infectious diseases.
The common diseases are related to respiratory failure such as colds, influenza and others like pneumonia fever, Ebola, diarrhea, rabies and influenza. Hence to protect gorillas from such diseases, tourists are subject to thorough checks before gorilla trekking.