A team of researchers is currently combing through the forests of the aptly named Bwindi Impenetrable National Park for signs of mountain gorillas. This is part of a major effort to understand the conservation status of this great ape and other wildlife that shares its habitat.
Once complete, the survey data will be analysed and combined with the results of a similar census in the Virunga Massif – the only other place on earth where mountain gorillas are found – in order to give a complete picture on how these animals are faring.
But gathering this information is no mean feat. In addition to Bwindi’s rugged terrain – dense vegetation and narrow valleys intersected by rivers and steep hills – the 52-strong research team will also have to contend with the elusive nature of Bwindi’s unhabituated gorillas.
Because these unhabituated gorillas are rarely seen (and therefore cannot be counted directly), the researchers will rely on signs of gorilla trails and nest sites. They will collect samples of gorilla faeces from each nest they encounter, which will then be sent for genetic analysis to enable a more accurate population estimate.
“Although we have a good understanding about the status of habituated gorillas, it takes systematic surveys like the two censuses in Bwindi and the Virungas to get an accurate picture of what is happening for this critically endangered subspecies,” explained Anna Behm Masozera – Director of the International Gorilla Conservation Programme (IGCP), which is coordinating the research together with the Greater Virunga Transboundary Collaboration and other partners.