(Washington, D.C.) Just as the mountain gorilla population was making a comeback with the arrival of twins in May 2004, the species has experienced a setback. In late December 2004, a young mountain gorilla was confiscated from four poachers by Rwandan police and the Rwandan Office of Tourism and Parks (ORTPN), during an undercover operation to intercept an illegal poaching incident. The young gorilla, estimated to be between 3 and 4 years of age, appears to be in relatively good physical health, though the odds of survival are unfavorable. This incident is a bitter reminder of the vulnerability of the endangered mountain gorilla population.
Now under the care of the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Program (MGVP) in Kinigi, Rwanda, the infant gorilla is being fed gorilla foods gathered daily by local trackers. Ultimately the future of the gorilla will be determined by the park authorities of Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), according to the World Conservation Union's (IUCN) Guidelines for the Placement of Confiscated Animals. Currently, the International Gorilla Conservation Program (IGCP) is working together with the authorities to determine the gorilla's group of origin in order to consider reintroduction into the wild as a viable option.
"We are both saddened and concerned about this poaching incident,| said Dr. Patrick Bergin, President and CEO of the African Wildlife Foundation. "It is a reminder that we must not be complacent in our wildlife conservation efforts. We must continue to seek a balance between the needs of the gorillas and the local people."
The mountain gorilla population, currently 700, grew 17 percent from 1989 to 2003. This is welcome news for mountain gorillas, and for the local people who benefit from the estimated US$20 million in revenues generated from gorilla-related tourism. Aptly named, mountain gorillas reside in the steep, forested and mountainous region of Central Africa, including the Virunga Volcanoes that form the border between the DRC, Rwanda, and Uganda.
Gorilla conservation efforts date back to 1925 when King Albert of Belgium established a Gorilla Sanctuary in the Congo, the precursor to the DRC's Virunga National Park. In the late 1950s and 60s, scientists like George Schaller and Dian Fossey began studying mountain gorillas in their natural environment and quickly discovered the conflict between mountain gorillas and humans. Beginning in the late 70s, conservation groups began collaborating to protect the remaining gorilla populations, focusing on three primary threats and habitat loss, disease, and poaching.
Today, one of the main groups working on gorilla conservation is the International Gorilla Conservation Program (IGCP), a coalition founded and spearheaded by the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) and comprised of AWF, Fauna & Flora International, and the World Wide Fund for Nature. Despite the political instability of the region, IGCP continues to work successfully to create widespread support for conservation among local communities and interest groups, and to encourage the relevant authorities to adopt a consistent, collaborative approach to conservation policy and legislation throughout the region.
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Founded in 1961, the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) is the leading conservation organization focused solely on the African continent. AWF's programs and conservation strategies are based on sound science and designed to protect both the wild lands and wildlife of Africa and ensure a more sustainable future for Africa's people. Since its inception AWF has protected endangered species and land, promoted partnerships with the private sector for ecotourism to benefit local African communities as a means to improve livelihoods, and trained hundreds of African nationals in conservation all to ensure the survival of Africa's unparalleled wildlife heritage. AWF is a non-profit organization with offices in Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia and is a registered 501(c)(3) in the United States. Visit www.awf.org.
The International Gorilla Conservation Program (IGCP) is a coalition of the African Wildlife Foundation, Fauna and Flora International and World Wildlife Fund for Nature. This coalition implements a variety of methods, including transboundary collaboration, ranger-based monitoring, community development, anti-poaching activities and habitat conservation to help the mountain gorilla population endure. Visit www.mountaingorillas.org.
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