African governments doing more to stop poaching of endangered species

This year in Africa, the fight between law enforcement and poachers of endangered species has flared into a war.

In the first two months of 2011, nine poachers were shot dead in South Africa. Despite this, poaching is up. In that nation alone, 333 rhinos were killed in 2010, and there have been 309 rhinos poached so far this year. It looks like the illegal hunters are set to break a grisly record.

Now South Africa is holding talks with Vietnam to reduce the demand for rhino horn, which some Asians use as an aphrodisiac and as a cure for cancer. Sometimes the horns are kept whole as curios or for religious rituals, as this 1930s photo of a Tibetan monk from the Bundesarchiv shows. The two governments are working on a plan to fight organized syndicates that trade in animal parts.

South Africa isn’t the only country seeing trouble, and isn’t the only country fighting back. In Zimbabwe, poachers have been poisoning water holes so they can kill animals silently and avoid detection by park guards. At least nine elephants, five lions, two buffaloes, and several vultures are known to have died.

Meanwhile, Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo are going to sign a treaty to cooperate across their borders to stop poaching of mountain gorillas and other species. The treaty also sets up joint research and education about the region’s diverse flora and fauna.

Mountain gorillas making a comeback

In the latest in a spate of good news about wildlife conservation in Africa, BBC Earth reports that mountain gorillas have increased their numbers on Virunga Massif, their core habitat stretching across Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. From a population of only 250 thirty years ago, their population has almost doubled to 480 today. Another 302 live in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park .

The rise is attributed to increased cooperation between the three countries to protect the gorillas and stop poachers.

Safaris to see mountain gorillas have become increasingly popular with adventure travelers. Uganda has expanded its gorilla safaris in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Rwanda is also offering safaris to see the gentle giants.

African nations are getting better at preserving their wildlife. Namibia and Zimbabwe are clamping down on poaching and last year we reported how Niger has pulled a unique subspecies of giraffe from extinction.

[Photo courtesy user KMRA via Wikimedia Commons]

Uganda expands gorilla safaris

Uganda has started work on habituating another mountain gorilla group to humans in order to expand safaris in its famous Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.

Habituation involves gradually exposing gorillas to humans in order for the highly territorial groups to get accustomed to human presence. Once the gorilla groups become used to humans being around, they are much less likely to get frightened or aggressive when safari tours show up.

Safaris are big business in Uganda and those that track gorillas constitute about half of the country’s tourism revenue.

Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
, located in southwest Uganda, is made up of 331 square kilometers of thick jungle. Visitors have to travel through it on foot. It’s a tough journey but allows adventure travelers the chance to see one of the richest varieties of wildlife of any East African park. About 340 endangered mountain gorillas live in the park; sadly that constitutes half of the total population in the world. Because of its importance in protecting the gorillas and other plant and animal life, Bwindi is on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Chasing Gorillas in Rwanda

There are many great destinations around the globe in which travelers can get up close and personal with animals in their natural habitat. You can travel to the Serengeti and take in the Great Migration or head to Northern Canada for an encounter with a polar bear. Make the journey to the Galapagos, and you’ll get to see any number of unique creatures found no where else on Earth.

Although there are amazing wildlife encounters on every continent, few can compare with gorilla trekking in Uganda, where each day a very select group of travelers gets the opportunity to hike deep into the jungle and observe the giant primates as they interact with one another. That’s exactly what journalist Jeremy Thompson, and his wife Lynn did, resulting in this really great article on their journey for the Daily Mail.

Jeremy surprised Lynn with the trip to Africa for her 50th birthday, and that trip included a visit to Rwanda, where they joined six other travelers who hiked above 8000 feet for the chance to spend some time with the legendary Rwandan mountain gorillas. The shy and elusive creatures are quite rare. Just 700 of them remain in the wild, and because of that, only about 50 people are allowed to enter their realm on any given day, and even then the encounter lasts just one hour. Luckily for this couple, they booked a second gorilla trek just so they could spend a little more time with the apes.

.For Jeremy, returning to Rwanda was quite an experience in other ways as well. He covered the genocide that occurred there back in 1994, and returning now he found a country that has moved on from its violent past, but hasn’t forgotten it. Not that long ago, the place was one of the most dangerous nations on the planet, and now it’s borders are open and it has a lot to offer the traveler looking for a unique African experience

Hiking and Hacking Through the Jungle to See Congolese Gorillas

There are only about 700 mountain gorillas in the world; half of them are spread across a range of mountains straddling the Congo, Rwanda and Uganda. Last month, rebels in eastern Congo killed and ate 2 gorillas living in that country’s Virunga National Park. Then amazingly, about three weeks ago, the rebels responsible for the slayings promised to stop killing the animals.

Travelers braving the 4+ hour hike into the park, shooting pictures of their experience with the gorillas, and then hiking back out, is one of the best ways to create awareness of these animals’ situations and bring them back from the brink of extinction. That’s where Mark Inns comes in.

Mark is a guy form the UK who decided to take a 16-month break and travel the world. One of his stops included a visit with these threatened, majestic creatures. Traveling with a local guide, Mark encountered a mountain gorilla family: a Silverback, 2 females, 2 infants, and 2 younger males. Here’s what he saw:

If you want to learn more about these animals, Wildlife Direct maintains a great blog updated regularly by a local wildlife conservationist: lots of news — and lots of pictures.