Hi, this is Sam,
As some of you may know, a mountain gorilla census is currently being carried out in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest here in Uganda. The count will allow us to see how well the gorillas living in this national park are doing and, just as importantly, will help us see what more needs to be done to safeguard these remarkable creatures for generations to come.
Now, counting gorillas is no easy task and it’s certainly not simply a matter of asking them to fill in a form like you have with a human census! Not only is Bwindi vast, the vegetation here is also extremely dense. Meanwhile, the gorillas themselves are understandably wary of humans and so all but the few habituated groups living here will retreat into the forests if they hear people coming.
So, how do you count mountain gorillas? Well, the most important thing to realise is that the researchers are not actually on the lookout for gorillas as such. Rather, they look for the clues they leave behind as they roam through the dense forest. Thankfully, being heavy and walking on all-fours, gorillas leave an easily detectable trail of flattened vegetation for researchers to follow. Once they have found the spot where the group they are researching spent the night, the team will get to work. Firstly, they’ll count the number of night nests dotted around the site, with this allowing them to put a figure on group size – though it’s worth remembering an infant will share a nest with its mother up until the age of two. Alongside this, the team will also look out for any distinctive silver hairs that may have been left behind by an alpha male and then they will also measure and collect samples of the dung left behind by the group. This last but may seem a bit yucky, but it’s a great way of determining the sex and age of a group’s members. What’s more, taking some samples back for analysis in a laboratory should help us check for signs of parasites, bacteria and even the presence of human viruses among these wild gorillas.
As I’m sure you can appreciate, this is no overnight process. Instead, it will be several months before we know the results of this latest census. For now, all we can do is cross our fingers, hope for the best and carry on with our efforts to help both the gorillas and the communities living alongside their forest home.