“This is a beacon of hope — and it’s happened in recently war-torn and still very poor countries,” said Tara Stoinski, president and chief scientist of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund.
Mountain gorillas live in lush and misty forests along a range of volcanoes in East Africa. Their habitat falls inside national parks in parts of Rwanda, Uganda and Congo. Conservationist Dian Fossey, who died in 1985, had projected that the primates may be extinct by 2000.
Instead, their populations have been slowly increasing thanks to sustained and well-funded international conservation efforts.
Tourism helps too: Visitors pay up to $1,500 an hour to watch gorillas. The money helps pay for park rangers. There’s also health care. Gorilla Doctors, a nongovernmental group, has trained veterinary staff in each country where the mountain gorillas live.
“We have made progress in terms of their protection, in terms of allowing an environment where mountain gorillas can continue to thrive and grow,” said Anna Behm Masozera, director of the International Gorilla Conservation Program, based in Kigali, Rwanda. “But it’s important to note that mountain gorillas’ numbers could still slip back very quickly. We still have just two fragile and small populations,” split between two national parks.
Hunting in the national parks is illegal, but nearby residents set traps to catch other animals, such as antelopes. Those traps can also grab gorillas’ arms and legs.
When gorillas are found struggling with traps, the vets are called in to clean wounds. Kirsten Gilardi, U.S. director for the organization, called it “extreme conservation.”
Experts said the emergency veterinarian interventions play a significant role in maintaining mountain gorilla populations.
“It’s a total conservation win, and there aren’t that many of them,” said Gilardi.