By Josephine Gregory-Thomas
It's a spellbinding moment. Just ask the lucky visitors to the African rain forest who have silently watched a mountain gorilla family feeding or grooming only a few yards from them.
Such a meeting, however, cannot occur--at least not safely--unless the gorillas have been acclimated to human presence, a tedious, physically demanding and sometimes dangerous process that can take months or years. Yet habituation yields significant benefits, both to the animals and the people who live near their habitats.
Ten Mountain Gorilla births occurred in the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire) since the onset of civil unrest 18 months ago, according to reports received today. "With only some 600 Mountain Gorillas left in the world, this gorilla baby boom represents the miraculous ability of African wildlife to bounce back despite extraordinary chaos," says African Wildlife Foundation President, Michael Wright.
Reports received today from African Wildlife Foundation's (AWF) field staff confirm the poaching of two endangered mountain gorillas in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The juvenile male named Birori (meaning "Juggler" for his playful antics in front of tourists) and Gasigwa, a three year old baby female, were shot by poachers on September 3 in the Virunga National Park, Africa's oldest national park (created in 1925). The forest is home to one of two remaining populations of mountain gorillas in the world.
Intermittent torrential winter rains linked to the El Nino weather system have pounded parts of Africa, taking a toll on people and wildlife alike.
Several parks and reserves reported flooding in low-lying areas. In Tanzania, about 500 hippos and crocodiles and 1,500 wildebeest, antelopes, gazelles and buffaloes, drowned in flooded game sanctuaries in Serengeti and Tarangire national parks in Tanzania. The Ngorongoro Crater filled with rain water, widening the lake at the bottom of the crater and forcing animals away from its center.
A comprehensive census in Uganda's Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park has confirmed the existence of nearly 300 mountain gorillas.
The world's total number of mountain gorillas has been estimated for some time at just over 600; the other 300 members of this endangered species live in the Virunga Volcanoes along the adjoining borders of Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire).