Largest of the four great apes, the gorilla is a shy, gentle, peaceful animal.

Gorillas and Humans

There was a time, prior to 1847, when the gorilla was the 'yeti' of Central Africa. It was dismissed as a "silly native legend".

Following the 1933 film King Kong, the killing of gorillas for sport increased considerably. Some native tribes eat gorilla meat, and, although protected by law, poachers are a problem, selling the skins, hands and heads to tourists.

There are approximately 880 mountain gorillas existing in the wild. Major efforts by various conservation organisations to save this gorilla in its natural habitat began in 1978 and the Mountain Gorilla Project was developed. Initially all efforts were concentrated in the Parc National des Volcans in the Virunga mountains of Rwanda.

Within about ten years, much of the killing and live capture of mountain gorillas had stopped and controlled tourism had turned the gorilla into an economic asset for Rwanda. In 1991, the conservation efforts were increased to include all gorillas and their forests throughout Rwanda, Zaire and Uganda - the Project's name changed to the International Gorilla Conservation Programme (IGCP).

In April 1994, a civil war broke out in Rwanda, bringing violence, chaos and much suffering to the whole region. By September of that year the future of the mountain gorilla and its habitat, the Virunga mountains ecosystem, was in great jeopardy. Most of the wardens and rangers of the Parc National des Volcans had fled across the border to Zaire, leaving the park without protection. In Zaire, the Parc National des Virungas was inundated with hundreds of thousands of Rwandan refugees, who set up camp there, devastating the environment.

Since that time, the situation has become more stable and several rangers and guides have returned from Zaire to the Parc National des Volcans. Fortunately, the mountain gorillas at least, in both Zaire and Rwanda, have not been too disturbed, mainly because the higher altitude forest areas in which they live, have been largely untouched.

The situation in Uganda, home to around half of the total population of mountain gorillas is much better. There, much of the income for the parks comes from tourists who pay to view gorillas, and the IGCP, working in conjunction with the Ugandan National Parks, has been aiming to ensure that this income benefits local communities.

In 2015 reports suggest that over a third of the gorilla and chimpanzee populations has been wiped out by the deadly ebola virus since 1990.

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