In light of their dwindling numbers, numerous conservation programs have been initiated in the three countries of Uganda, Rwanda and Congo (DRC)with a view to enhance protection of their natural habitats so as to ensure Mountain gorilla survival.
Mountain gorilla specie discovery in the Virungas:
For the western world mountain gorillas were known to be a mythical creature, until the early twentieth century. In 1902 a German explorer and hunter Captain Robert Von Beringe set out on the African exploration and a hunting trip.
From west African Beringe entered the Virunga massif currently Uganda, Rwanda and Congo (D.R.C) where he encountered a creature totally unique and unknown to him, he observed the creature and they way how it was fighting coming closer to human attacking styles of defense. Still in the Virunga massif Robert shot and took the skull of a mountain gorilla to European Museums and helped establish this specie as separate specie.
The mountain gorilla was given a Latin classification –Gorilla Gorilla Beringei in honor of Robert Von Beringe discovery work.Fifty seven years ago, Mr. George Schaller from New York left for Africa to a study about mountain gorillas and this study was expected to have a long lasting impact. He spent a year of field work in the Virunga volcanoes culminating details he published in his book the mountain gorilla in 1963; the book was a classic of quantified natural history, behavior and ecology. Currently his publication is still cited and refereed to for Research on Mountain gorilla conservation.
Early year’s Mountain gorilla conservation experience: After George Schaller came in An America female primatologists called Dian Fossey came in 1967; she arrived at Kabara meadows where Schaller first established his base camp in Congo’s parc national des Virunga. Fossey spent here only six months and half before being forced out by political trouble moving crossing the border to Rwandan conservation sector. She set up her camp in the volcanoes making a combination of Mountains Visoke and Karisimbi, she reffered to the research camp as Karisoke which is still available today and remains the longest running field camp for research studies in Primatology.
By 1972 together with the aid of newly arrived student groups such as Sandy Harcourt Fossey habituated three study groups including group 4 and 5.During this period the park’s guard force was ill equipped and untrained and the involvement of Non-governmental organization in conservation was quite low, Karisoke research Center was the only Center for conservation efforts in the Virunga massif. Mountain gorilla census in 1970 indicated that mountain gorilla population had declined and the factors behind this as in Schaller’sestimate was Habitat loss and by that time mountain gorillas were also being hunted for the pet and trophy industry.
In 1978 something strange happened that would change everything, unknown group of people predicted to be poachers attacked the Karisoke’s longest studied group, this was group 4 resulting into the death of two silver backs including the favorite Dian’s Silver Back DIGIT, a female and infant this led to the disintegration of the group.
At the end of 1984 followed another tragic attack on the research station which left Dian Fossey murdered at her Cabin. By then her research had gained momentum and reached far, the Digit Fund which eventually became Dian Fossey Research Fund International (DFRFI) was established to ensure the successful continuation of her mountain gorilla conservation mission and Karisoke.