Fifteen years ago, ranger-based monitoring (or RBM for short) was initiated as a tool in the conservation of mountain gorillas. Whether patrolling the park for law enforcement or tracking mountain gorillas for health assessments or to facilitate visits by tourists or researchers, data is being collected and recorded on data sheets. Every day. That's over 5,000 days of valuable data collected.
While RBM data is analyzed regularly to inform decisions related to park management, the 15 year anniversary of its initiation provided an opportunity to look at trends in the data collected over this time period.
At the end of June 2012, IGCP's species conservation duo - Dr. Augustin Basabose and Mr. Charles Kayijamahe - convened a workshop bringing together park staff, researchers and conservationists from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda.
Workshop participants at Saint Francois Xavier Guest House in Rubavu, Rwanda. The workshop to analyze RBM data from the last 15 years was held June 28-29, 2012.
This map indicates the home ranges for the habituated mountain gorilla groups in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda. Again, unhabituated mountain gorilla groups are not indicated on this map, but also exist in this forest.
Park-specific results were presented and discussed at the workshop. Keep in mind that mountain gorillas are found in four national parks and one nature reserve in the three countries. Collectively, these protected areas form two distinct forest blocks - the Virunga Massif and Bwindi.
This map shows the home ranges for the habituated mountain gorilla groups in the Virunga Massif from 2001-2011. Note that the home ranges for unhabituated groups are not indicated on this map, as they are not regularly encounted by rangers.
The data collected for the last fifteen years were collectively discussed and trends were identified. Above are the collective home ranges for habituated mountain gorilla groups in the Virunga Massif and Bwindi. It was noted for most, but not all, habituated mountain gorilla groups in both the Virunga Massif and Bwindi, the home ranges have significantly expanded over time.
Trends over time for mountain gorillas leaving the parks to crop raid in neighboring fields were also looked at as a topic of interest among workshop participants. Ways to improve RBM data collection to capture valuable information for this potentially conflict-inducing behavior were identified by workshop participants.
Data, after all, are only as good as the context it was collected in and so many factors can affect the observations recorded. For example, in order to locate an illegal activity, a patrol has to be conducted in order to discover it. It was therefore important for workshop participants to add their knowledge of the situation to the maps and analysis that was done with data alone. This was the case when it came time to analyze the data on illegal activities within the two forest blocks.
This map shows data collected on illegal activities by type of activity- honey collection, hunting, snares, and timber cutting.
Ideas were vetted on ways to improve RBM data collection, including identifying the necessary support needed in terms of training and equipment. Data collection outside of protected areas, which can assist in understanding illegal activities within the park and potential human-wildlife conflict outside of the park were given priority by participants as well.
Beyond the workshop, IGCP is working on the establishment and functionality of a regional server which can house all RBM data in a place where all conservationists can access it as needed.
RBM is a tool that has proved itself an important component of the conservation of mountain gorillas. It will continue to be refined and improved to better inform park management and conservation decisions.
Participating in the workshop were the following institutions/ organizations:
This important workshop was supported by the US Fish and Wildlife Service with additional support from WWF-Sweden.
Anna serves as Communications Officer for IGCP. Originally from Iowa in the United States, she now calls the hills and volcanoes of the Greater Virunga region home. She is a conservationist at heart and by profession, and is thrilled to report on the amazing work of IGCP and partner organizations in the conservation of mountain gorillas.
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