As a result, the sad fact is that year on year, more gorillas die than are born, and a large proportion of those deaths are at the hands of men. For the person doing the killing, the act is usu- ally the result of a conscious, logical decision. Ergo, to change the behaviour of those who kill gorillas, one must understand their situation and what leads them to kill.
Over the past hundred years, gorillas have been confronted with a broad range of new threats, ranging from diseases brought in by humans, to destruction and fragmentation of their habitats through logging, mining and burning, to direct hunting for bushmeat or being killed at random in the ongoing conflicts. Civil wars not only have major impacts on the lives and survival of people, but can le ad to deliberate killing of gorillas as well as accidental deaths from mines or booby traps.
As large, group-living primates, gorillas have few natural pred- ators. There are some records of leopards killing adult gorillas (e.g. Baumgartel, 1976) and young gorillas could potentially be taken by pythons or eagles, but infants are normally protected by the adults. Humans must also be considered a natural pred- ator, but historically the silverback’s size, strength and dramatic threat displays were enough to deter all but the bravest of tradi- tional hunters. The 19th century introduction of fire-arms into Central Africa changed that, and as guns became more wide- spread during the 20th century, gorilla populations subjected to increased hunting pressure began to decline.
There is, however, no coordinated effort to wipe out gorillas. Even those who profit from gorilla poaching presumably do not want the source of their profits to be wiped out. The decline in gorilla numbers is down to collective negligence – not enough care is taken in land-use planning, not enough is spent on wild- life law enforcement, and not enough alternative opportunities are being created to give poachers a better way out of poverty.
RELATIVE RISK TO THE SPECIES OR SUB-SPECIES Some of the threats outlined below may cause the deaths of a small number of gorillas, which may seem insignificant in terms of populations numbering in the thousands. For the least numerous sub-species, however, with populations in the low hundreds, each individual’s genetic contribution to population recovery is important. And it is in these tiny, frag- mented populations that human-wildlife conflict is most pro- nounced.
KILLING GORILLAS IN WHAT IS PERCEIVED AS SELF DEFENSE
In areas where gorillas are hunted, their first reaction to the sight, smell or sound of humans is often silent flight or a startlingly loud alarm bark followed by silent flight. If the humans have blundered into a family of gorillas by accident (for example when walking in heavy rain), this sudden explo- sive WRAAGH is taken by most people to be a pre-cursor to a physical attack. If someone deliberately persists in following gorillas, the silverback may hang back from the group and hide until the person is close, then leap out roaring loudly in a dramatic display. Few men carrying a gun can resist the im- pulse to shoot in either of these circumstances, and so it was many years (and many dead silverbacks) before it was real- ized that this was a bluff charge unless the gorillas were actu- ally attacked. The risk of such fatal encounters increases dur- ing wars and civil unrest, when the number of armed men walking through gorilla habitat (with a finger on the trigger, fearing attack from enemy forces) is likely to increase. One way of countering this threat is to include information on how to react to gorillas when training troops being deployed in gorilla habitat. In Rwanda, for example, soldiers on patrol to ensure tourist safety in the Volcanoes National Park are fully briefed and have often been seen observing the gorillas with fascination.
Figure 1: The Walikale community gorilla reserve. 16