Threat of Endangerment: The Mountain Gorilla Essay

This essay has a total of 977 words and 4 pages.

Threat of Endangerment: The Mountain Gorilla

The mountain gorilla was first discovered roaming the Virunga Volcanoes in Rwanda (von
Beringe, 2002, p.9). German Captain Robert von Beringe and his African soldiers stumbled
upon two mountain gorillas around the volcanic region on October 17, 1902 (von Beringe,
2002, p.9). Von Beringe captured and killed one of them and sent the body to the
Zoological Museum in Berlin, Germany. Professor Paul Matschie, who worked with the museum,
identified the gorilla as a new class and named it after its founder: Gorilla beringei
beringei (von Beringe, 2002, p.10). Twenty-three years later, American naturalist Carl
Akeley persuaded King Albert of Belgium to turn a Belgian trust territory, near Rwanda,
into a national park for the conservation of mountain gorillas. The Albert National Park,
later named the Virunga National Park, was the first park established in Africa (Ngowi,
2002).

Between 1960 and 1980, American zoologists studied mountain gorillas. George Schaller
spent one year doing basic study on the animal. Dian Fossey devoted her life to
extensively studying and protecting mountain gorillas. Fossey moved to Rwanda to be closer
to the animals and set up the Karisoke Research Center in 1967 (Robbins et al., 2001). She
directed the center for thirteen years, learning the habits and gaining the acceptance of
the mountain gorillas (Robbins et al., 2001). In 1983, she wrote a book, Gorillas in the
Mist, to promote public awareness of the troubles mountain gorillas face. Her memoir was
later made into a movie. Her relationship with mountain gorillas and concern for their
safety was unmatched. She created an organization to save gorillas in 1978 called the
Digit Fund, named after a mountain gorilla Fossey was close to (Robbins et al., 2001).
After her mysterious death in 1985, the organization switched its name to the Dian Fossey
Gorilla Fund International. Fossey contributed to much understanding of mountain gorillas.

Dian Fossey was so driven to protect mountain gorillas because they are an endangered
species. Several threats have kept their population from thriving. One threat is disease,
especially those which humans are equally as vulnerable to (Ferber, 2000). Tourists enjoy
visiting the mountains of Rwanda to admire the gorillas and encourage their safety;
however, humans help put mountain gorillas at risk. In 1999, a team of researchers with
the Journal of Parasitology noted roundworm parasites in the feces of mountain gorillas
(Ferber, 2000). These parasites normally have affected only humans through contaminated
water. Early, in 1988, blood and tissue samples of several mountain gorillas indicated
measles infection (Ferber, 2000). As soon as this was discovered, other healthy gorillas
were given a vaccination to prevent further outbreak of the infection (Ferber, 2000).
Until gorillas have built up immunities against diseases they contract from humans,
disease is a large threat that could wipe out an entire population.

Another important threat to mountain gorillas is habitat loss. Currently, there are two
patches of protected afromontane forest cleared between the borders of Rwanda, Uganda, and
the Democratic Republic of Congo with a total area of about 190 square miles for gorillas
to roam freely (Rutagarama, 2001). The land in the confined area, though, will be
pressured to provide agriculture for the plant-eating apes (Rutagarama, 2001). Limited
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