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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

"Extreme cold and rainy conditions" suspected as cause of 4 mountain gorilla deaths

From WWF
Four gorillas die in Volcanoes National Park

WWF is saddened by the death of four mountain gorillas in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park. The mother and three infant gorillas were part of an estimated 380 members of the highly endangered Virunga mountain gorilla population.

On Sunday, May 16, trackers from the Karisoke Research Centre visiting the Pablo group reported they had found a dead female and her baby—Mutesi— alive but very weak. As the trackers went to find the rest of the group they then discovered another dead baby gorilla. Fortunately, the second baby’s mother was found a day later with no signs of illness.

The trackers immediately alerted the Rwandan Development Board which mobilized veterinarians to try and save the ailing baby Mutesi. In the quickly fading daylight, the veterinarians decided to move towards the park to link up with the trackers. Their valiant efforts to administer antibiotics and warm her up were futile. Baby Mutesi was hardly breathing; she died about two hours later.

“Each baby mountain gorilla is a source of great hope and is monitored very closely,” says Eugene Rutagarama, Director of the International Gorilla Conservation Program (IGCP), a coalition of the African Wildlife Foundation, Fauna & Flora International, and W WF. “We are all shocked and saddened by the death of these baby gorillas as well as the adult female, and by the grave implications for the mountain gorilla population as a whole.”

Cause of deaths unknown at this time
While the cause of death has yet to be determined, the gorillas are thought to have died because of the extreme cold and rainy conditions. The gorillas’ current range is high on Mt. Karisimbi, and at high altitude it will be even colder. There are no signs of foul-play. However, all the dead gorillas were taken to the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project laboratory for necropsy in order to determine the possible causes of the deaths.

There only about 680 mountain gorillas in the wild making them one of the world’s most highly endangered great apes.

About half the population lives in the Virunga Volcanoes, a chain of active and inactive volcanoes that straddles the borders of Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The other half lives in Bwindi Impenetrable Park in Uganda.

Since the four dead gorillas were discovered, the Rwanda Development Board and Karisoke Research Centre staff have identified all other gorilla groups in Volcanoes National Park to confirm that there have been no further casualties.

“We can thankfully report that for all other research and tourism gorilla groups all individuals were identified,” says Maryke Gray, IGCP’s technical advisor. “There were no missing gorillas and no gorillas were found to have serious health problems.”

Results of latest census may provide hope for the future
The news of the gorilla deaths is casting a pall over enthusiasm being generated by a mountain gorilla census being conducted across the Virunga Volcanoes. Facilitated by IGCP and funded by WWF, a team of 80 park officials and other experts over two months collected data on gorilla activity as well as faecal samples for genetic analysis and health.

The results are now being analyzed and are expected to be released in October 2010. The last census of mountain gorillas in the Virunga Volcanoes, conducted in 2003, revealed the population had increased 17 percent since the previous census in 1989. Conservationists are hoping to see another rise this time around.

Related link: Virunga mountain gorila census to begin

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