Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Above Rwanda's Madding Crowd, Mountain Gorillas Reign

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Above Rwanda's Madding Crowd, Mountain Gorillas Reign

Article excerpt

Mugombe, a silverback gorilla, tranquilly snoozes on a bed of nettles on a Rwandan mountaintop in Volcanoes National Park, oblivious to the human multitude pouring into villages several miles below.

Stretched out languorously, like a man on a sofa, the giant patriarch occasionally stirs to look askance at eight tourists witnessing his midday nap.

Mugombe and his family of 28 live an enchanted life. Youngsters play freely in the rain forest, wrestling and beating their chests. There are enough bamboo trees and wild cherries to eat. Armed guards keep intruders away. But local environmentalists worry that protecting the rare mountain gorillas may be increasingly difficult. More than 500,000 Rwandan refugees have returned from Zaire - and many of them are heading toward the gorillas' habitat. Rwanda is one of the world's most densely populated countries. Authorities are concerned there won't be enough land for the masses returning home. Denys Uwimana, a senior Tourism and National Parks official, says the government has launched a plan to educate returnees not to kill gorillas or encroach on their habitat. "We will try to mitigate the negative impact of the refugees' return," he says. "We are trying to ensure that they do not come into the park - and that local leaders are ... sensitizing the population about protecting the gorillas." Until the refugees' return, environmental officials were pleased with efforts to protect Rwanda's mountain gorilla population, which Mr. Uwimana estimated to be at least 300 - about half the world's total population. Poaching was a problem before the current government came to power in 1994, he says. But since then about 70 armed guards and soldiers have been dispatched to protect the gorillas. Authorities are also reforesting areas where trees had been cut down and have banned farming near the reserve. …

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