Gorilla researcher Dr. Dian Fossey began funding daily anti-poaching patrols in the late 1970s, soon after establishing the Karisoke Research Center in Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda, a strategy that may have saved the incredibly small population of Mountain gorillas from extinction. The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International (DFGFI) continues her work by operating anti-poaching patrols 365 days a year, removing snares and looking for other signs of illegal activities. Working hand-in-hand with daily protection teams, who are with the gorillas every day, anti-poaching patrols make the habitat safer for gorillas.
DFGFI’s gorilla trackers visit each group of gorillas every day. As part of their daily data collection, the trackers confirm the presence of each individual and record information on health or injuries. This data is shared with the Rwandan authorities and other conservation organizations to help manage the population. For example, if any gorillas are missing, search parties are organized to find them and ill or injured gorillas are reported to the Rwandan authorities and veterinary teams. By monitoring the welfare of individual gorillas, these trackers are our first line of defense against threats to the population, including outbreaks of disease and poaching. In addition, these teams work hand-in-hand with our anti-poaching patrols that remove snares and report other illegal activities to ensure that gorillas are thriving.
DFGFI carries forward Dr. Fossey’s 45 year legacy of mountain gorilla research at the Karisoke Research Center, continuing to develop knowledge that helps us better understand and protect Mountain gorillas. Researchers are with each group of gorillas every day collecting data on gorilla behavior, ranging patterns, feeding patterns, demography, genetics, physiology, and health. DFGFI also has research teams focused on studying the other biodiversity of the region, such as amphibians, birds, and vegetation. A new program in the Democratic Republic (DR) of Congo is setting out to protect an understudied population of Grauer’s gorillas, whose numbers scientists believe are declining drastically.
DFGFI’s work for more than a decade with communities in DR Congo has led to the development of a Grauer’s Gorilla Research and Conservation Program in three community reserves that do not receive protection from Congolese park authorities. Grauer’s gorillas, the largest of all the gorilla subspecies, are considered critically endangered, and scientists suspect that their population is declining.
Conservation Education :
DFGFI believes education is key to empowering people who live near the gorillas in Africa to become stewards of their shared ecosystem. Education programs in Rwanda support local schools, provide conservation components to classroom curriculums, lead field trips into the park for local children, and train teachers to create citizen science programs.
Since Dr. Fossey established the Karisoke Research Center in 1967, the institution has nurtured many young scientists who have become important figures in the field of primatology and conservation. DFGFI continues this legacy by supporting scientists and conservationists early in their careers. Partnerships with local universities bring biology students for courses in gorilla conservation and field research methods and provide opportunities for undergraduates at the National University of Rwanda to study mountain gorillas and many other species under the supervision of Fossey Fund researchers.
DFGFI provides guides in Volcanoes National Park with training about mountain gorilla behavior, ecology and conservation; bird identification; the biodiversity of Volcanoes National Park; and nature interpretation techniques to better equip them to share this information with park visitors. This training supports the important ecotourism industry, which creates livelihoods for local people and helps promote gorilla conservation around the world.
Community Health and Development:
DFGFI’s community health programs seek to create a healthy environment for both people and gorillas by working with local communities to improve health care, increase access to food and clean water, and educate about disease prevention, the impact of human disease on gorillas and the significance of endangered species. This also helps create community support that is essential to successful conservation efforts.