Just two days before this year’s gorilla baby naming ceremony, or Kwita Izina, held on July 1st in Rwanda, one of these young apes was caught in a poacher’s snare. According to the Rwanda Times the baby gorilla, called Icyamamare, had become severely entangled in the wire snare and was unable to free herself. Fortunately Rwanda has a team of highly dedicated “Gorilla Doctors” who are able to deliver life-saving veterinary and medical interventions with the aim to conserve these endangered animals.
The team were able to induce Icyamamare with anesthetic and free her with wire cutters from the snare. According to Dr Kinani, the head field veterinarian in charge of the operation, the wounds inflicted by the snare were fortunately superficial and they were able to treat her quickly before reuniting her with her family.
The Gorilla Doctors are part of a larger conservation effort to conserve the Wild Mountain and eastern lowland (or Grauer’s) gorillas. This conservation group does it through monitoring the health of the animals and providing of life-saving veterinary medicine. The creation of a clinic to treat wounded and sick mountain gorillas was a passionate cause of famed gorilla researcher Dian Fossey. Before her murder in 1985 she had spent years working to raise awareness about the threats the animals faced, including poaching and respiratory illnesses she suspected were transmitted by humans.
According to Dr Kinani, because of the intervention of new conservation practices, “the mountain gorilla population has actually grown by 26%” since 2003. Almost 30 years ago, experts had feared the mountain gorilla could be headed toward extinction. A 1981 census in the tri-country Virunga massif, home to one of two distinct mountain gorilla populations, had recorded an all-time low of 254 individuals. Today it is estimated that there are 880 Mountain Gorillas left in the wild, 480 of which live in the Virunga Volcanoes Massif, which spans Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park, DR Congo’s Virunga National Park, and Uganda’s Mgahinga National Park. Another 400 gorillas are believed to live in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda. As for the lowland gorillas, no one knows exactly how many survive in the wild, but it is believed that there are fewer than 8,500 and that number is shrinking.
Fortunately various conservation practices are helping to curb this decline. Rwanda has been at the forefront of gorilla conservation efforts for years and now boasts two-thirds of the Virunga Massif’s remaining endangered mountain gorillas. This is thanks to the renewed efforts of national conservation authorities, the local populations and the support they have received from the international community. An event that keeps this support going is the gorilla baby naming ceremony, now in its tenth year. This event receives thousands of international, regional and local visitors, generating more funding for community projects and awareness of the importance of conservation.
In Uganda, conservation groups like “Conservation Through Public Health” (CPTH) are determined to prevent the transmission of diseases from humans to the gorillas, also known as zoonotic disease transmission. CTPH educate and work with local health centres to improve the health of Bwindi communities and they have also established an early warning system for disease outbreaks through wildlife fecal sample collection and analysis. In Bwindi Impenetrable National Park CTPH has “trained rangers, trackers, field assistants, and community volunteers in gorilla health monitoring through recognising clinical signs in gorillas and collecting fecal samples from night nests and fresh trails.” The organisation also has the “Gorilla conservation camp” which offers basic accommodation to tourists, students and researchers whilst putting 100% of their profits towards gorilla conservation.
Despite various conservation efforts, it is evident from the snaring of this baby gorilla that the challenges still remain. In Uganda high human population growth increases the proximity of humans to these endangered animals. Meanwhile, charcoal production by locals and oil extraction projects e threaten the crucial habitat of the gorilla in the Virunga National Park. The area is often subject to outbreaks of violence from various militia groups and the Congolese army. Severe poverty in the region also pushes poachers into the park to hunt gorillas for either meat or sale.