Conservation in Crisis Why Covid-19 Could Push Mountain Gorillas Back to the Brink
By The Guardian
Once a step away from extinction, their survival was a rare success story. But groundbreaking gorilla conservation is now in peril.
As he clambers down the forested ravine, soil slipping beneath his boots, Dr Fred Nizeyimana knows they are close. “I can smell them,” he says, just before the mountain gorillas come into view high in the canopy, plucking leaves and chomping on the vegetation.
An adult female slides down a tree, a flash of black fur and elongated limb. More follow, with infants and juveniles in tow. A grunting silverback descends to join its family, the branches buckling beneath approximately 180kg (400lb) of iconic primate.
Then Nizeyimana, a specialist vet offering hands-on care in the wild, spots a remarkable scene. Ambling up the steep, wooded slope, another gorilla family has emerged from the valley floor. The first group look on, then head deeper into the primeval jungle of Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable national park – one of Africa’s most ancient habitats and home to almost half of the world’s mountain gorillas.
Such a close and well-populated encounter with one of humankind’s nearest relatives (witnessed before the Covid-19 pandemic) would have been inconceivable during the dark days of the early 1980s, when it was estimated that there were only 250 mountain gorillas in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s (DRC) Virunga national park, and around 100 thought to be in Bwindi. That all-time low prompted fears they would vanish by the end of the 20th century. Even in early 2018, the conservation status of these gorillas put them one step away from extinction.