Gorillas are still in the mist

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, October 1994:

KARISTOKE, Rwanda– Only
two of the 60 gorillas who had been kept
under daily observation at the Karistoke
research center in Rwanda were unaccounted
for, anthropologist Dieter Steklis and team
found upon returning to the site made famous
by the late Dian Fossey in late August––after a
false start on August 25 when about 50 Hutus
attacked the first group of trackers to return,
also Hutus, and chased them back to Zaire.
Of the missing gorillas, a six-year-
old male was presumed dead; an adult female
apparently joined another group, also of about
60, in a nearby area. Steklis said that group
hadn’t yet been couunted, but seemed to be
well. The two gorilla bands account for about
20% of all the mountain gorillas left in the
wild. The Karistoke research staff fled the
Rwandan fighting in April, the anti-poaching
staff left in June, and about 30 Tourism and
National Parks wardens followed in early July.

But the civil strife that killed any-
where from 500,000 to 1.5 million Rwandans
did not reach Karistoke, Steklis said. “The
greatest amount of disturbance has been the
pushing through the forest of people and their
pushing of cattle ahead of them,” he told New
York Times correspondent Jane Perlez.
Karistoke director John Cooper and
World Society for the Protection of Animals
African regional director Garry Richardson
speculated on August 4 that the refugees might
take to poaching gorillas, either for cash or
accidentally while snaring food. Human
Rights Watch expert on Rwanda Frank Smyth
wrote to The New York Times on September 1
to challenge that view. “Credible evidence
suggests that Dian Fossey was murdered (in
1985) for her work against gorilla poaching,
but direct gorilla poaching was entirely wiped
out in Rwanda by 1984,” he said. “Indeed,
in her book Gorillas In The Mist, published in
1983, Fossey credited the work of the
Rwandan anti-poaching brigades for having
‘essentially eliminated the trophy market
involving the sale of gorillas’ heads and hands
for souvenirs.’ Unfortunately,” Smyth contin-
ued, “the image of defenseless primates
attacked by dark savages is simply too prof-
itable for fund-raising to give up. And it helps
conceal the real issue concerning Rwanda’s
mountain gorillas: competition with humans
to survive. In the long run,” he warned,
“unless Rwanda’s human needs are addressed,
the mountain gorillas are not likely to survive.
Perpetuation of myth only makes their extinc-
tion more likely.”
The future of the gorilla-monitoring
project depends largely upon eco-tourism,
which raised about $1 million a year in park
fees in the late 1980s, but has fallen to noth-
ing, as would-be gorilla watchers go to Zaire
and Uganda, instead. A $366 million NASA
orbital radar system launched in April is
attempting to track the gorillas from space,
among other tasks, but Steklis said that as
impressive as the early results were, it would
still be preferrable to have some people in the
field with the gorillas.
Elsewhere in Rwanda, olive
baboons, Cape buffaloes, lions, and other
wildlife reportedly took over the Hotel
Akagera near Akagera National Park, 75
miles east of Kigali. The rapid depletion of
the Rwandan population has apparently bene-
fited most wild animals who shared the densed
settled habitat––but has also set up confronta-
tions that the animals are sure to lose as
humans reoccupy their former homes.
The Rwandan livestock sector may
be slow to recover, said Richardson, who
reported that the only cattle left in the country
are the few that returning refugees bring with
them. “All the poultry appears to have been
eaten, together with thousands of goats,
sheep, and pigs,” he added.
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