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Gorilla Guardians

  • 06/17/08
  • Paul

When the trackers go out with the gorillas, it’s not all picture-taking and gorilla games. There’s work to be done. During our trek, Damascene and Gabriel showed me the techniques they use to collect data on the gorillas and monitor the groups – a program called Ranger-Based Monitoring (RBM).

RBM was developed by the International Gorilla Conservation Program (IGCP) in 1996 as a means for ecosystem surveillance across the Virunga and Bwindi forest blocks in Rwanda, Uganda, and the DRC.

Trackers and rangers are trained to monitor the health of each group member, record births, deaths and transfers of individuals between groups, and collect data on gorilla behavior and activities. They also record the daily location of the gorillas and of illegal activities within the park, such as cattle grazing and firewood collection.

Damascene monitoring gorillas

An ORTPN monitoring assistant records data as a curious gorilla climbs overhead.

RBM is a powerful conservation tool. Trackers and rangers, the men and women who know the gorillas best, are actively involved in data collection that helps in the long term protection of the species. It is employed in the three countries that share the Virunga region and so helps facilitate transboundary natural resource management.

So, as I was ogling Rugendo and Agashya, Damascene and Gabriel were collecting data and accounting for each gorilla in Group 13.

Damascene takes notes from the silverback's nest site.

Damascene was trained by IGCP in data collection and entry. Damascene is in charge of collecting the tracker’s data and relays it to IGCP, which uses it to guide conservation management. He’s been working with the gorillas for nearly 10 years, has assisted various research projects, and has helped habituate gorillas to human presence.

It was clear that Damascene is completely committed to the gorillas. He spoke about his work with such pride. “Of course I enjoy my job very, very much. I love it!”

Gabriel monitoring Agasha

Gabriel monitors Agashya, the group's silverback.

Trackers also watch for poachers’ snares set for antelope and other small forest animals. Unwary or inexperienced gorillas sometimes get caught in the snares, which are made of wire or nylon. One young female of Group 13 lost a hand due to a snare. I was amazed she survived and can navigate the forest.

“Security in Rwanda is not a problem,” Damascene explained. But neighboring DRC is not as stable. “We’ve seen a rise in snares close to the border. If our gorillas go across the border and find many snares, they come back very quickly.”

Tracker records data

Gorilla trackers are trained to collect data with a simple pen and paper, which aid in overall conservation management.

Want to support gorilla rangers and trackers? AWF is helping to raise funds to equip rangers and trackers and to promote gorilla conservation - click here to help.

About the Author

Paul began with AWF based in Nairobi for a year, before moving to Washington DC. Paul has worked at the Madrid Aquarium and at The Marine Mammal Center in the Marin Headlands outside San Francisco. He was born in New Zealand but grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. Paul received his B.S. in Wildlife Ecology and Management at the University of Michigan’s School of Natural Resources and Environment. He is a member of the Emerging Wildlife Conservation Leadership initiative and is working on a conservation campaign to combat the illegal trade of Asian pangolins. Paul enjoys photography, travel, hikes in the woods, music, and nyama choma.

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AWF Blogs bring you to the critical landscapes we work in, where conservation benefits both wildlife and people alike. The blogs are written by our staff - men and women who have dedicated their lives to Africa's wildlife, people and wild lands.