By Katie Collins
The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund has released Hope, a short David Attenborough-narrated documentary on YouTube highlighting the plight of Rwanda's gorillas. Fossey was well known for her work with gorillas and her book Gorillas in the Mist, but thirty years after her death, they still face the dual threat of poaching and human warfare every day.
As humans, we can live, love and fight our wars on pretty much any terrain anywhere in the world. Gorillas however, do not have these choices and are restricted as to where they can thrive, having evolved to thrive in a very specific habitat. In that habitat, on the border of Rwanda and Democratic Republic of the Congo, human politics and a delicately balanced ecosystem collide. Even if there were alternative places the gorillas could live, relocating whole troops would be hugely detrimental to their welfare, which in turn could cause massive setbacks to conservation efforts.
To relocate them they would all first have to be immobilised, which in itself would be very problematic. When gorillas injured by snares have to be immobilised so that the snare can be removed, the experience is very traumatic for the rest of the group to observe, and they can take days, or even weeks to recover.
The rangers protecting the gorillas are divided into two groups. Monitoring trackers learn to recognise each and every one of Rwanda's 120 habituated gorillas by their nose prints and can recognise changes in their behaviour that might signal whether or not something is wrong. Anti-poaching rangers, on the other hand, are very knowledgeable about the forest and are able to recognise any signs of disturbance that might suggest poachers are in the area.
Fossey was instrumental in setting up these programmes and helping to connect the local communities with the wildlife and habitat around them. Tragically, she was murdered in her cabin in the Virunga Mountains in December 1985, but with gorilla numbers up and more Rwandans than ever directly involved in protecting those numbers, her legacy lives on.