Threats to Mountain Gorillas Still Exist Despite Increase in Population

Despite that the the gorilla numbers have surpassed 1000 as the latest Virunga Massif Census results, there are several threats to the conservation of the mountain gorillas in Africa. Here are some of the existing threats that still threaten mountain gorillas today;

Human Induced Habitat Loss and degradation

Mountain Gorillas are known to face a lot of threats in their habitats. The main threat to mountain Gorillas is habitat loss; the loss comes as a form of forest clearance and degradation by human beings. As the population continues growing around the sectors inhabiting the mountain gorillas, this happens when  the population keeps struggling for a living/survival including the competition for the limited natural resources. Humans at times encroach on the parks for fire wood resulting into deforestation and conversion of land into arable land. Though a lot has been done to reduce human interference into the parks, a lot is still needed to be done within the Virunga parks.

The solution to the habitat loss is to develop the economic system that meets the daily needs of people. This will make the local people living adjacent to the parks not to see the gorillas as competitors.

Encouraging community participation will also help in creating sustainable usage of the parks. Their participation will also result into improving their daily way of living.

The primary threat to mountain gorillas comes from forest clearance and degradation, as the region’s growing human population struggles to eke out a living. Conservation of Land for agriculture and competition for limited natural resources such as firewood lead to varying degrees of deforestation. The
only way to maintain gorilla habitat is to develop alternative economic activities that allow people to meet their daily needs, so that they see gorillas not as competitors, but as a means of improving their own situation.

Diseases

Disease is another threat to the mountain gorillas, gorillas genes are relatively related to humans this makes them more vulnerably too many diseases and any human contact is harmful as well as life threatening.

Gorillas are closely related to humans with similar anatomical and physiological features. This makes them vulnerable to many of the same diseases. Because the gorillas have not developed the necessary
immunity, first time exposure to an illness or virus that is relatively innocuous to humans may never recover from a sudden fall in numbers brought on by disease.

Any human contact is potentially harmful, even life-threatening. Tourists who visit these great apes on gorilla safaris are instructed to keep their distance 7 metres , but conservationists, scientists, rangers, poachers, militia groups and local communities also pose threats. At times, gorillas have been seen coming very close to humans!

It has been established that some gorillas have already succumbed from common skin diseases like scabies and mange, or respiratory disease, which can quickly spread from group to group as families interact. Debris left behind
in the park by refugees, poachers and the military routinely cleared in order to minimize the contamination risk to wildlife, and a health education programme is helping to combat the threat of disease.

Poaching and Hunting
Poaching is another reason threatening the mountain Gorillas. The hunting, trading and consumption of gorillas and other apes is almost universally illegal in all Congo Basin countries.

However, poaching countries unabated due to a lack of enforcement of national and international laws, coupled with ineffective judiciary systems. In the first two decades after their discovery, European and American scientists and trophy hunters killed over 50 mountain gorillas.

To this day, poaching continues to jeopardize the gorillas’ survival. Poaching of mountain gorillas for food is extremely rare. It is now largely the result of unselective hunting with snares, which are set to catch antelope, bush pigs and other wildlife but occasionally kill or injure gorillas.

In the 60s and 70s mountain gorillas were poached for sale to foreigners as trophies and
captive specimens although mountain gorillas can never survival in the captivity. NO Mountain Gorilla survived in captivity.  Recent events have shown that hunting of mountain gorillas in order to capture babies commissioned by unscrupulous dealers remains a very real threat.

The commercial trade in bush meat, which occurs throughout west and central Africa, is today the biggest threat to gorillas.  Apes are being killed to primarily to supply high-end demand for meat in urban centres, where the
consumption of ape meat is considered to be prestigious amongst the wealthy elite. Estimating numbers of gorillas poached is difficult because they are often butchered and eaten on the spot, or their meat is smoked for later sale in towns.

Although gorillas may constitute only a small proportion of all animals killed for the bush meat trade, they present easy targets for hunters, and in many areas gorillas are favored hunters because of the weight of saleable meat.
Gorillas’ low reproductive rates means that even low levels of hunting can cause a population decline, which could take many generations to be reversed. Gorillas are also frequently maimed or killed by traps and snares intended for other forest animals such as antelopes.

Direct poaching of gorillas, either killing of gorillas or capture of infants for the live animal trade, remains a real threat, with unfortunate incidences of poaching occurring throughout the mountain gorilla range in 2002, 2004, and 2007. And most recently in 2013 the case of an infant recovered outside
of Viruga National Park, abandoned in a field with clear signs of being held captive. The infant, named Matabishi was determined through a genetic test to be a mountain gorilla. Matabishi joined three other rescued mountain gorillas, orphans from a poaching in 2007 at the Senkwenkwe facility in Rumangabo under continuous care.

Traditional medicine and live animal trade
Gorillas are also sought after as pets or trophies and for their body parts, which are used in medicine and as magical charms.

Other threats
The region’s ongoing conflict and civil unrest most especially in the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo are an ever-present risk, impacting people and wildlife, including gorillas. Infrastructure development causing habitat loss and degradation, and possible disruption to mountain gorilla health and behavior are also an emerging threat, as well as a changing
climate.

In general, weak institutional management structures, a feeling of disenfranchisement among local communities, and insufficient regional collaboration all pose serious challenges and a source of threats
to the mountain gorillas.

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