How many gorillas live in the Virunga Massif? This is a question that has not been answered since the last census of the habitat in 2003. The Virunga Volcanoes is one of only two locations where mountain gorillas live. The last census in 2003 resulted in an estimate of 380 individual gorillas. For the past 8 weeks the Wildlife and National Park Authorities of Uganda, Rwanda and DRC collaborated on this important, trans-boundary census of the Virunga populations of mountain gorillas.
I was given the opportunity to participate in the census this year as a team leader. This was a very meaningful experience for me; participation in this important aspect of gorilla conservation complimented my work as a Gorilla Doctor. I was one of 80 trans-boundary team members working on this project.
The objective of the census was to establish an update total population size in the Virunga Massif and to compare with the previous censuses in 2003 and 1989. We also wanted to determine the level of the human disturbance, survey for diseases and take fecal samples for genetic analysis.
The 2010 census started with a three days workshop where participants from all three countries met to learn census methods and to collect our equipment for the job. We were to camp in the park for 2 weeks in teams of 8 individuals, and move through the forest following transects using maps and GPS positions, and count every gorilla night nest we discovered. We were also collecting fecal samples from each nest for disease screening and genetic analysis. On the 15 March, my team of 8 individuals walked into the forest to our first camp and began the install our camp with the help of porters from Kampande. After 5 days work in the forest, we moved to another camp in Mukecuru area for two days. Our last camp was at KARISOKE, the beautiful area that was the original research station of Dian Fossey.