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Scientists count endangered gorillas

Scientists from three African nations began counting rare mountain gorillas in an effort to determine their exact number and the factors that are affecting their population.

A team of 100 African scientists is counting rare mountain gorillas living in the range straddling Congo, Rwanda and Uganda - the first such census in 14 years, the Uganda Wildlife Authority said Monday.

SCIENTISTS FROM THE three nations began counting the endangered primates, made famous in the movie “Gorillas in the Mist,” last month in an effort to pinpoint their exact number and determine what factors are affecting the population, UWA said in a statement.

There are believed to be about 670 mountain gorillas living in the wild, based on recent partial censuses.

About 350 are believed to live in the Virunga Mountains in Congo. The other 320 gorillas live in Bwindi Impenetrable Park in southwestern Uganda. That figure is based on recent censuses, so scientists will not count the population there again.

A census normally should be done every five years, but warfare in the region has made it impossible to conduct a full count in the past 14 years, said Moses Mapesi, director of field operations at UWA.

The scientists began counting the gorillas in Mgahinga Game Park, in southwestern Uganda, and then will move to Virunga Park in neighboring eastern Congo, which has been beset by a 4½-year civil war. They will complete their field work in Volcanoes National Park in northeastern Rwanda, which border eastern Congo, later this month, UWA said.

“We need to know the numbers which have been produced, those which have died naturally due to age or disease and those killed by human beings,” Mapesi told The Associated Press.

“In Congo, people eat gorillas. And there have been wars in Rwanda and Congo. These must have affected the population of these individuals.”

More than 500,000 people, mainly minority Tutsi and politically moderate Hutus, were killed in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. Many of those who carried out the genocide fled into eastern Congo.

Francois Bizimungu, a senior warden with Rwandan National Parks, said scientists would count the gorillas’ nests because it’s “very difficult to count wild gorillas.”

The results will be released in about three months, Bizimungu said.

The census is funded by the Wildlife Conservation Society, the International Gorilla Conservation Society and the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International, among other organizations. It was Dian Fossey’s work studying the mountain gorillas that was the subject of her book and movie “Gorillas in the Mist.”

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