The Mountain Gorilla and
Certain species, especially those conservation biologists term “umbrella species, ” engender a broad suite of ecological values and act as an ecological proxy for habitat conservation. The mountain gorilla (Gorilla gorilla beringei) serves as an umbrella species within the montane forests of Nile– Zaire Divide of Central Africa. Unique challenges to the mountain gorilla dictate that a different and perhaps more concentrated approach to conservation must be employed than that used for the other two subspecies of gorilla. Subject to the risks associated with small population dynamics, the mountain gorilla numbers are estimated at 600–640 individuals, found in two equal-sized isolated populations in two protected park areas, the Virunga Mountains, including 375 km2 in Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda, and Bwindi Impenetrable Forest including 330 km2 in Uganda (Butynski and Kalina 1998). It is postulated that these two populations have been separated for approximately 1,000 years, the length of time the landscape between these forests has been converted to intensive agricultural use. Although impossible to substantiate, historical numbers of mountain gorillas before agricultural activities began have been estimated at approximately 10,000 (C. Sholley, personal commun. 1999).
Conservation threats to mountain gorillas can be summarized as follows: habitat loss (at a rate of 0.5–1.9% yearly), incidental hunting (for both subsistence and the rapidly expanding commercial bushmeat market), intrinsic susceptibility to disease and loss of genetic fitness as a result of small population size, management challenges as a result of the political bureaucratic dimensions of three separate governments and transboundary operational difficulties for nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and perhaps most insidious, the severe ecological imbalance brought about by the influence of humans on the gorilla-inhabited