Uganda Gorilla Census Ends; Results A Year Away
The Mountain gorilla census for Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park that began in September concluded three weeks ago, but researchers say it could take at least a year to analyze the data and release accurate figures regarding the population of Mountain gorillas in the region.
The project was led by the International Gorilla Conservation Program (ICP), in partnership with the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) and the Max Planck Institute – all of whom are members of the Great Apes Survival Partnership (GRASP). It is the fourth census conducted of Mountain gorillas in Uganda since 1997, and is expected to identify at least 300 individuals.
Approximately 780 Mountain gorillas are known to exist in the three countries that comprise their range: Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Besides seeking to establish the population of the endangered Mountain gorillas, the team in charge of the census was collecting information on the status of other wildlife in the area, such as elephants, bush pigs, monkeys and duikers, among others. The researchers also gathered evidence of illegal activities that affect the flora and fauna.
The methods used in this year’s exercise included the indirect sweep method, whereby gorilla nests are counted, and the fecal method, whereby gorilla faeces was collected and later will be analyzed in the laboratory to identify DNA samples of each individual.
The fecal method, although tedious and time consuming, is expected to yield more accurate results than the previous method of counting only sleeping nests made by gorillas. Fecal samples found in the nests are measured to ascertain the ages of the gorillas. The numbers of the nests are counted with the varying fecal samples in them measured and documented for instances where more than one gorilla uses one nest. This is common with baby gorillas that fear sleeping alone in the night.
After that data collection, a sample of the gorilla fecal matter is collected in a test tube with sterilizer for future DNA analysis to be carried out later at the Max Planck laboratories in Germany.
In the closing days, the census group that combed the thick forest in was joined by Dr. Andrew Seguya, the executive director UWA; Charles Tumwesigye, the chief conservation area manager (UWA); and Eugene Rutagarama, executive director for IGCP. They participated in the data and sample collection and discussed analysis methods with the team.
In an address to the census researchers, Dr. Seguya commended the team for work well done and the resilience manifested throughout the six week long exercise and congratulated them for successfully completing one of the most important exercises in gorilla conservation.