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Uganda: Mountain Gorilla Population May Have Declined

Categories: Sub-Saharan Africa, D.R. of Congo, Uganda, Breaking News, Environment, War & Conflict

We have always known that there are around 700 Mountain Gorilla [1]s still alive in the wild today – 336 of which are in Uganda [2]- but a new study published in the journal New Scientist [3] indicates that that might be a little optimistic.

The 336 individuals said to be resident in Uganda's Bwindi Impenetrable National Park were estimated using a method that counts the number of nests that the majestic primates build each night. The new study now indicates that this method may have overestimated the number of individuals in the population since gorillas make more than one nest a night.

Paula Kahumbu, writing in the Gorilla Protection blog [4], says of the report:

Recent DNA tests from dung were conducted by Katerina Guschanski of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Liepzig, Germany, …revealing that there are actually far fewer mountain gorillas. She found evidence of 302 separate genetic codes or individual gorillas, suggesting that the nest counting method overestimates the population size because some gorillas create more than one nest.

A previous DNA study – in 2007 [5] – had placed the population at 340 individuals. This indicates that th Bwindi population has declined by 10%. The scientists are however cautious and not quite ready to declare that the population is declining, or stable.

If the Bwindi population has indeed declined then it is not good news. Paula says:

If it is true that the Bwindi population is shrinking, then this is bad news for mountain gorillas – it is estimated that there are only around 700 in existence, this work suggests at least a 5% decline of the global population.

Rangers at GarambaMeanwhile, the death toll from the 2 January 2009 Lords Resistance Army (LRA) attack on Garamba National Park has risen to 10 since we reported about it on 14 January [6] and on 11 January [7]. Three people are still missing as reported on the Baraza blog [8]. The victims have also been identified and this particular blog post in Baraza lists those killed, wounded and missing.

The Gorilla Protection blog also comments on the arrest of Laurent Nkunda [9], Congo's renegade general and rebel leader, by the Rwandan military as reported on the BBC [10], which could actually be good for gorilla conservation.