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Gray M.,The International Gorilla Conservation Programme | McNeilage A.,Institute of Tropical Forest Conservation | McNeilage A.,Wildlife Conservation Society | Fawcett K.,Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International | And 4 more authors.
African Journal of Ecology | Year: 2010

The mountain gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei) of the Virunga Volcanoes Range of Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo are one of the most endangered ape populations in the world. Following a dramatic decline during the 1960s, and relative stability in the 1970s, the population steadily increased during the 1980s. Due to political instability and war, a complete census had not been conducted since 1989. Here we compare the results of a complete census using the 'sweep method' conducted in 2003 with those from a monitoring program, to estimate the size and distribution of the gorilla population. A total of 360 gorillas were counted from census measurements and known habituated groups. Based on quantitative assessments of the census accuracy, we calculated that an additional 20 gorillas were not counted, leading to an estimated population of 380 individuals, and a 1.15% annual growth rate since 1989. The Ranger Based Monitoring programme yielded similar results. The encouraging results must be viewed with caution, however, because the growth was concentrated almost entirely in one section of the Virungas. Additionally, the distribution of gorilla groups was negatively correlated with the frequency of human disturbances, which highlights the need to continue strengthening conservation efforts. © 2009 The Authors. Journal compilation © 2009 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

Gray M.,International Gorilla Conservation Program | Roy J.,Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology | Vigilant L.,Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology | Fawcett K.,Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International | And 6 more authors.
Biological Conservation | Year: 2013

Monitoring changes in the population dynamics of endangered species is crucial to effective conservation strategies. The mountain gorilla population of the Virunga Massif has been the subject of intensive conservation efforts, research and several censuses over the last 40. years, but the region has also been affected by political instability and war. Here we present results from the 2010 census, which was the first to utilize genetic analyses of fecal samples for the entire population. The genetic analyses improved the accuracy of the population estimate by identifying several instances in which gorillas otherwise would have been undercounted or double-counted. The population was estimated to be 480 individuals; including 349 individuals found in 24 groups that were habituated for research and tourism, 101 individuals found in 12 unhabituated groups, fourteen solitary males, and a correction factor of sixteen for undetected infants. The population has increased by 26% since 2003 (an annual rate of 3.7%) and it has almost doubled since 1981. Nearly all of the increase can be attributed to a relatively higher growth rate in the habituated groups from 2003 to 2010, and in all five of the previous intervals between consecutive censuses. Nonetheless, it would be imprudent to habituate additional groups due to the concomitant risks of disease transmission from humans, behavioral disturbance and potential vulnerability to poaching. The results show that it is possible for conservation efforts to succeed even under difficult conditions, while highlighting the continuing challenges of managing a wild population of both habituated and unhabituated gorillas. © 2012 Elsevier Ltd.

Robbins M.M.,Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology | Gray M.,The International Gorilla Conservation Programme | Fawcett K.A.,Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International | Nutter F.B.,University of California at Davis | And 9 more authors.
PLoS ONE | Year: 2011

As wildlife populations are declining, conservationists are under increasing pressure to measure the effectiveness of different management strategies. Conventional conservation measures such as law enforcement and community development projects are typically designed to minimize negative human influences upon a species and its ecosystem. In contrast, we define "extreme" conservation as efforts targeted to deliberately increase positive human influences, including veterinary care and close monitoring of individual animals. Here we compare the impact of both conservation approaches upon the population growth rate of the critically endangered Virunga mountain gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei), which increased by 50% since their nadir in 1981, from approximately 250 to nearly 400 gorillas. Using demographic data from 1967-2008, we show an annual decline of 0.7%±0.059% for unhabituated gorillas that received intensive levels of conventional conservation approaches, versus an increase 4.1%±0.088% for habituated gorillas that also received extreme conservation measures. Each group of habituated gorillas is now continuously guarded by a separate team of field staff during daylight hours and receives veterinary treatment for snares, respiratory disease, and other life-threatening conditions. These results suggest that conventional conservation efforts prevented a severe decline of the overall population, but additional extreme measures were needed to achieve positive growth. Demographic stochasticity and socioecological factors had minimal impact on variability in the growth rates. Veterinary interventions could account for up to 40% of the difference in growth rates between habituated versus unhabituated gorillas, with the remaining difference likely arising from greater protection against poachers. Thus, by increasing protection and facilitating veterinary treatment, the daily monitoring of each habituated group contributed to most of the difference in growth rates. Our results argue for wider consideration of extreme measures and offer a startling view of the enormous resources that may be needed to conserve some endangered species. © 2011 Robbins et al.

Robbins A.M.,Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology | Gray M.,International Gorilla Conservation Program | Uwingeli P.,Rwanda Development Board | Mburanumwe I.,Institute Congolais Pour La Conservation Of La Nature | And 2 more authors.
Primates | Year: 2014

Using 30 years of demographic data from 15 groups, this study estimates how harem size, female fertility, and offspring survival may contribute to variance in the siring rates of dominant male mountain gorillas throughout the Virunga Volcano Region. As predicted for polygynous species, differences in harem size were the greatest source of variance in the siring rate, whereas differences in female fertility and offspring survival were relatively minor. Harem size was positively correlated with offspring survival, even after removing all known and suspected cases of infanticide, so the correlation does not seem to reflect differences in the ability of males to protect their offspring. Harem size was not significantly correlated with female fertility, which is consistent with the hypothesis that mountain gorillas have minimal feeding competition. Harem size, offspring survival, and siring rates were not significantly correlated with the proportion of dominant tenures that occurred in multimale groups versus one-male groups; even though infanticide is less likely when those tenures end in multimale groups than one-male groups. In contrast with the relatively small contribution of offspring survival to variance in the siring rates of this study, offspring survival is a major source of variance in the male reproductive success of western gorillas, which have greater predation risks and significantly higher rates of infanticide. If differences in offspring protection are less important among male mountain gorillas than western gorillas, then the relative importance of other factors may be greater for mountain gorillas. Thus, our study illustrates how variance in male reproductive success and its components can differ between closely related species. © 2014, Japan Monkey Centre and Springer Japan.

Robbins A.M.,Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology | Gray M.,International Gorilla Conservation Programme | Basabose A.,International Gorilla Conservation Programme | Uwingeli P.,Parc National des Volcans | And 3 more authors.
PLoS ONE | Year: 2013

Infanticide can be a major influence upon the social structure of species in which females maintain long-term associations with males. Previous studies have suggested that female mountain gorillas benefit from residing in multimale groups because infanticide occurs when one-male groups disintegrate after the dominant male dies. Here we measure the impact of infanticide on the reproductive success of female mountain gorillas, and we examine whether their dispersal patterns reflect a strategy to avoid infanticide. Using more than 40 years of data from up to 70% of the entire population, we found that only 1.7% of the infants that were born in the study had died from infanticide during group disintegrations. The rarity of such infanticide mainly reflects a low mortality rate of dominant males in one-male groups, and it does not dispel previous observations that infanticide occurs during group disintegrations. After including infanticide from causes other than group disintegrations, infanticide victims represented up to 5.5% of the offspring born during the study, and they accounted for up to 21% of infant mortality. The overall rates of infanticide were 2-3 times higher in one-male groups than multimale groups, but those differences were not statistically significant. Infant mortality, the length of interbirth intervals, and the age of first reproduction were not significantly different between one-male versus multimale groups, so we found no significant fitness benefits for females to prefer multimale groups. In addition, we found limited evidence that female dispersal patterns reflect a preference for multimale groups. If the strength of selection is modest for females to avoid group disintegrations, than any preference for multimale groups may be slow to evolve. Alternatively, variability in male strength might give some one-male groups a lower infanticide risk than some multimale groups, which could explain why both types of groups remain common. © 2013 Robbins et al.

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