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]

One in five vertebrates face extinction

The bad news: One in five vertebrates could go extinct within our lifetime, and the number may rise even higher than that.

The good news: It would be a lot worse if it weren’t for conservation efforts.

That’s the verdict of a global study of 25,000 threatened vertebrate species presented to the 10th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, in Nagoya, Japan. It found mammals, amphibians, and birds are especially hard hit, with fifty species a day sliding closer to extinction. The main culprits are logging, agriculture, hunting, and alien species.

Yet conservation efforts are saving some animals. The white rhino, like the ones pictured above, was almost extinct a hundred years ago but is now the most common rhino in Africa and its status has been upped to Near Threatened, meaning that while it still needs to be watched, it’s not in any immediate danger. Here’s where ecotourism comes in handy. For example, Niger is hoping to cash in on safari tours by helping a unique subspecies of giraffe, bringing the population from fifty to two hundred in just a decade. Countries where the white rhinos roam are also pushing ecotourism and safaris.

Another success story is the giant marine reserve created in the South Pacific a few years back. This 73,800 square-mile reserve is one of the world’s largest and was created by Kiribati, one of the world’s smallest countries. If tiny island nations and poverty-ridden countries can help out their animals, one has to wonder why any species in the First World are threatened at all. Major food sources like tuna face extinction and even mythical beasts like the Loch Ness Monster may be extinct. When even our legends are dying out, you know we’re in trouble.

[Photo courtesy Joachim Huber]

Kenyan safari lets travelers become lion researchers

An African safari is a seminal travel experience. Early morning game drives, amazing wildlife, beautiful sunsets over the savannah, they’re all part of the experience. But tour operator Gamewatchers Safaris is offering something even more unique with a new option for travelers to take part in actual lion research while on their vacation in Kenya.

The nine-day adventure begins with a trip to Joy’s Camp, where famous naturalist and author Joy Adamson did research of her own with her equally famous lioness pal Elsa. Adamson’s story became a world wide phenomenon thanks to the book and film Born Free, and visitors will have the opportunity to wander the same territory, while helping modern day researchers track radio collared lions and observe their behavior. They’ll actually have the opportunity to interact with scientists and conservationists as they go about their work, while getting an upclose look at these beautiful predators. And after seven days in Joy’s Camp, it’s off too the Maasai Mara, on the northern Serengeti, where travelers will spend another three days at Porini Camp, observing more lions, as well as plenty of other wildlife, such as zebras, elephants, and wildebeest.

Over the past twenty years, the lion population in Africa has declined by an estimated 30-50%, and scientists have struggled to understand exactly why. While on this safari, travelers will have an opportunity to contribute to the research being done to solve this mystery, and perhaps even begin to turn the trend around. Besides helping to conduct research however, 5% of the cost of the trip will also be donated to the research program being conducted by Ecotourism at it’s best, with travelers giving something back to ensure that future generations can enjoy the same experiences.