Karisoke Research Center – The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund
Tara Stoinski – Zoo Atlanta, USA
Mountain gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei) are found in two isolated populations – the Virunga population in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda and Uganda (480 individuals) and the Bwindi population in Uganda (400 individuals). Mountain gorillas represent the only known ape subspecies in the world that is increasing in number, with the Virunga population doubling from 250 to 480 individuals in the last 30 years. Since 1967, the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International's Karisoke Research Center has supported the national parks service of Rwanda by providing daily protection for a significant portion of Rwanda's mountain gorilla population.
Currently, the Fossey Fund's activities protect roughly half (120 individuals) of the Rwandan gorilla population, with more than 70 field staff in the forest 365 days a year. Their activities include daily monitoring and protection of each of these 120 gorillas, including verifying the presence/absence of all individuals in the group, gathering data for our long-term database on gorilla behaviour, demography and ranging patterns, recording relevant information for various partners to enhance gorilla conservation (e.g. illegal human activities, health status of the gorillas) and collecting biological samples for physiological and genetic studies. The Fossey Fund also has anti-poaching teams that work closely with the national park staff to patrol the larger forest. These teams record all evidence of illegal activities, which feeds into the park's management system, and assist in removing approximately 1,500 snares from the forest each year. A recent analysis revealed that it is this level of extreme protection that is primarily responsible for the increases in gorilla population size.
In addition to its gorilla protection and monitoring activities, the Fossey Fund also monitors the overall biodiversity of the region, including amphibians, golden monkeys, birds, large and small mammals, and plant species that are consumed by gorillas. Fossey Fund staff members provide conservation outreach to the local human population, reaching approximately 6,000 elementary and secondary students each year, as well as having targeted programmes for adults. The Fossey Fund collaborates with the University of Rwanda to provide over 150 undergraduate students per year the opportunity to take field courses at Karisoke to learn about primate conservation and research techniques. Finally, Fossey Fund staff members support community projects, such as assisting with capacity building at health clinics, facilitating hygiene and sanitation education efforts, and building infrastructure at local health clinics and schools.