Mountain gorillas are extremely shy, so researchers are counting their night nests to work out how many live in Bwindi

The mountain gorilla census for Bwindi Impenetrable National Park which began in mid-September this year successfully ended on October 22,2011 with Dr.Martha Robbins of the Marks Planck Institute announcing that it would take at least a year to come up with a more accurate figure of the gorilla numbers from the exercise.

In the closing days, the census group which combed the thick forest in a challenging terrain was joined by the executive director of the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) Dr. Andrew Seguya, the Chief Conservation Area manager (UWA) Mr. Charles Tumwesigye and the Executive director for International Gorilla Conservation Program (IGCP) based in Rwanda Mr. Eugene Rutagarama.

This was the fourth gorilla census the first one having been conducted in 1997, when it was estimated that the population of gorillas in Bwindi was 300 individuals living in groups and others as solitary adult males.

Besides seeking to establish the population of the endangered Mountain Gorillas, the team in charge of the census was collecting information on the status of other wildlife like Elephants, Bush Pigs, Monkeys and Duikers, they are also taking records of evidence of illegal activities that affect the flora and fauna.

The methods used in this year’s exercise include the indirect sweep method where gorilla nests are counted and the fecal method where faeces of these gorillas in the nests are collected and later will be analyzed in the laboratory to identify DNA samples of each individual.

The fecal method, although tedious and time consuming is expected to yield more accurate results than the previous method of counting only the night sleeping nests made by Gorillas

Partners in the exercise included Uganda Wildlife Authority is working with to make this census is a success include the International Gorilla Conservation Program (IGCP), a coalition of the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF), Fauna & Flora International, and the World Wide Fund for Nature Max Planck Institute, Institute of Tropical Forest Conservation among other conservation agencies in Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo.

Before officially closing the census,the UWA chief executive participated in the data and sample collection as one Ismail Bakebwa, UWA Monitoring & Research ranger demonstrated how fecal sample and positive identification of family members is done.

Fecal samples found in the nests are measured to ascertain the ages of the gorillas. The numbers of the nests are counted with the varying fecal samples in them measured and documented for instances where more than one gorilla uses one nest. This is common with baby gorillas that fear sleeping alone in the night.

After that data collection, a sample of the gorilla fecal matter is collected in a test tube with sterilizer for future DNA analysis to be carried later in Germany.

In his address to the Census team, ED-UWA Dr. Seguya commended the team for work well done and the resilience manifested throughout the six week long exercise and congratulated them for successfully completing one of the most important exercises in gorilla conservation.

He thanked the funders of this year’s census together with IGCP and Marks Plank for making the exercise possible.

Compiled by Jackie

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