I have no doubt that gorillas are beyond worthy to take the first place in the Endangered Species series. Even though their numbers increased in the past, the species is still critically endangered. Their population was last assessed by IUCN in August 2018. The number of mature individuals was 2600 back then.
Conservation of this majestic species has received a great deal of attention. It is of paramount importance to protect their habitat. Similarly, it is also crucial to recognize, how important is gorilla tourism in the area. Gorillas typically live in lowland tropical forests and transitional forests. The Eastern gorilla in particular lives in the area of Congo, Rwanda and Uganda.
They are not aggressive in nature, but adult males do go above and beyond to protect their families. Hence there are certain groups that have been habituated to get used to the presence of humans. This was important to build tourism around the species bringing a considerable income to these African countries.
Gorillas don’t migrate, but as the vast majority of the animals, they do follow food. As they tend to feed on the ground level, they are very careful and shy, and certainly not easy to find. They rest in very dense vegetation, which protects them from invaders, whether it is other animals or humans. Sometimes they rest on trees on well-made nests. The silverback male leads its group and safeguarding them ceaselessly.
You might be already familiar with their signature move when gorillas beat their chest. This can be a sign of various things. It can be a display of power, as well as a form of aggression. Likewise, it can be also just simply a release of tension.
Most of their day is surprisingly spent on eating. Due to their low energy diet (mostly vegetation) they have to feed a lot to achieve appropriate nutrition levels. Their muscly body has got no problem to tear a banana tree into particles in less than an hour. They eat all kind of plants, fruits, occasionally ants or termites as well. Another shocking fact: gorillas can eat up to 40-50 pounds of food a day. Can you imagine eating 20 kgs of iceberg lettuce? Well, it is quite a challenge I suppose.
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
The area surrounding the national park is heavily populated. Most of the people in the area make a living from farming. There are ancient, highly spiritual groups that live nearby, such as the Batwa. In the past they used to live in the forest, hunting for bushmeat and harvesting. They have a very strong culture and they are still cherishing their ancestors. The Batwa has an otherworldly connection with the forest.
In 1993 gorilla tourism started in Uganda, and local people’s access to the forest has been denied. Some communities received more profit from the revenue, some received less and some nothing. Rangers still to this day guarding the forest with guns to keep communities out. Those people that were denied access to the forest resisted and lit fires as a form of rebellion. Today they are trained to lead tours into the forest and guide tourist groups around. They also take part in maintaining souvenir shops, hotels, restaurants in the area.
At Bwindi, over a 100 villages share a boundary with the park, and the income is now sent to the district authorities and divided equally. This profit can be used to improve their lives, such as schools, hospitals, or agriculture.
However, as we all know, all magic comes with a price. Letting tourists into the forest to visit gorillas present an ultimate threat to the species. Due to their DNA being so similar to ours, it is very easy to transmit diseases. A simple cough can wipe out an entire group of gorillas, and possibly even a population. Tourists sometimes don’t take the threat seriously. It is indeed tempting to let a gorilla touch you, or pet a baby gorilla.
Threats gorillas are facing
Today there are very strict rules to visit each habituated gorilla groups. Tourists have to maintain at least 7 m distance from the individuals. Smoking, eating and drinking are not permitted on the tour, and visits are limited to one hour per gorilla group a day. Is this enough to protect the gorillas, and conserve their habitat?
Unfortunately, it is not just the human touch that threatens these highly intelligent creatures. Due to climate change, their habitat is shifting and continuously alters. Urban developments and the building of tourism areas were the main cause of deforestation. For the same reason to improve transportation networks, local authorities paid a great deal of attention for building roads and railroads. To produce energy for the country oil and gas drilling started in the area, as well as mining. Naturally, the issue that occurs in most forests occurs here as well. Hunting for bushmeat and logging for wood disturbing their natural habitat.
Can we protect gorillas? Will the next generation know gorillas?
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