The park is well known for its mountain gorilla population, but up in the north, a small group of Grauer’s gorillas (eastern lowland gorillas) are struggling to survive. They live in a small isolated forest called Mount Tshiaberimu, just 77 square kilometers in size, northwest of Lake Edward. This gorilla population is down to just six gorillas in two groups.
The gorillas were discovered in 1958 and no census exceeded more than 40 individuals. In 2006 a more accurate census estimated 21 individuals.
Why the drop in numbers? Gorilla Organization, a partner of the park, has worked in Tshiaberimu for the last 12 years with the mission to protect these gorillas. They give five main reasons for their decline.
- Bad census counts – The gorilla numbers that reached as high as 40 came from inaccurate census methods. The population has never been large.
- Human diseases – Humans can pass on disease to gorillas, and at one time there was a quite a lot of human traffic through this gorilla territory. Several gorillas are believed to have died from catching a human disease.
- Accidents – Two young gorillas are known to have fallen from trees and died.
- Poaching – several gorillas have disappeared, most likely from poaching. Most recently, an adult female and juvenile have been missing for three months. Increased rebel activity is believed to be the cause.
- Inbreeding – as the population shrinks, inbreeding is inevitable.
Dr. Eddy Kambale with Gorilla Doctors traveled to Mount Tshiaberimu over the weekend to check the health of the remaining six gorillas. He identified two groups – four gorillas in the Kipuru family (a silverback, 2 blackbacks, and 1 adult female) , and only one silverback and one female in the Katsabara family. Two gorillas from the Kipuru family are still missing.