The last of the gorillas

November 11, 1994

A Hull University scientist is travelling to a remote area on the borders of Southern Uganda and Rwanda in an attempt to preserve the habitat of the world's largest population of mountain gorillas.

Reports last week that chimpanzees and gorillas in Africa are being eaten into extinction horrified conservationists. It is estimated that just 650 mountain gorillas are left in the hills of Rwanda, Zaire and Uganda. Although all species of great ape are protected under international conventions, this has not prevented a trade in "bush meat".

David Taylor, an expert on tropical forest ecology, is to compile a map of the Bwindi Forest, some of the world's most impenetrable forest and home to more than half of all mountain gorillas. The work will be carried out for the World Wide Fund for Nature in collaboration with Mbarara University in Uganda.

The forest has so far defied precise mapping and it has been impossible for the Ugandans to determine how much of it supports the gorillas' distinctive habitat. Until that task is completed it will be difficult to calculate what capacity, if any, is available for supporting increases in the gorilla population. Mapping will also show how much of the forest, part of the Uganda National Park, is being encroached upon by illegal farming activity.

Dr Taylor will be using data from satellite sensors to pick out for the first time the different forest types and to identify areas where the more open forest conditions which gorillas favour prevail.

A lecturer in the university's school of geography and earth sciences, Dr Taylor knows the area well since he conducted his PhD there. He said: "Currently the Ugandans are trying to manage the forest without a map and don't have any idea of its overall capacity because it is very difficult to get around in."

Although keen to get on with the exercise Dr Taylor admits he is less eager to come face to face with one of the gorillas.

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