They have been classified as endangered species with only 720 of them left in the world, majority of which are in Uganda, DR Congo and Rwanda.
Against that backdrop, the government has laid out plans of conducting a census for gorillas to find out their actual numbers. The first census in Bwindi National Park in western Uganda was carried out in 1997. It showed that there were 300 gorillas but the number rose to about 320 five years later and 340 in the last census conducted in 2006.
The Uganda Wildlife Authority has said the essence of the exercise, which will cost Shs280 million ($100,000), is to also help the Authority establish the numbers of other animals and extent of human activities in the park for conservation purposes.
“It will help us to know whether the animals numbers have lowered for proper solutions to stop them from extinction and diseases that mostly kill them,” Mr Pontius Ezuma, the Bwindi Mgahinga Conservation Trust manager, said at the weekend.
The tests for bacteria that cause diseases to the animals will be done at Makerere University laboratories. Mr Ezuma said the exercise, which is implemented by the International Gorilla Conservation Programme, started last month and would end this Saturday.
He said 75 enumerators have been trained to carry out the exercise that involves counting nests where the gorillas sleep, collecting their faecal matter for genetic analysis and placing geographical positioning system points to avoid double counting.
The samples will be taken to Germany for DNA tests for genetic identity of different animals to provide accurate results. “The 2006 census showed 340 gorillas from counting nests, but the genetic analysis showed 302 and it is considered more accurate. This time around we are applying both methods,” said Dr Martha Robbins of Max-Planck Institute in Germany, who is heading the census team. “Results of the census will be tallied to the 480 gorillas counted from Virunga Conservation Area last year,” she added.
Th area consists of three national parks: Virunga National Park in DR Congo; Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda and Mgahinga in Uganda. Uganda currently receives more than 2,400 gorilla-tracking tourists per year but the figure went down in the late nineties due to rebel insurgencies in western Uganda.