Key Species Monitoring Plan for Kahuzi-Biega
A monitoring plan for gorillas and elephants has just been launched in the highland sector of the Kahuzi-Biega National Park (KBNP). Its purpose is to provide information on 10 gorilla groups in the park and to put together an accurate inventory of group compositions and home ranges. It also defines standardized observation methods for monitoring teams. The monitoring will be undertaken annually. The plan has been conceived as an offshoot of the overall monitoring plan for KBNP for 2011–2016.
In this report we provide details on the gorilla groups for which we already have some results from the monitoring activities. To compile information on distribution, density and population size of the gorillas in the highland sector of the park, inventories are conducted periodically (usually at 5-year intervals) and cover vast areas. Data are collected both on the habituated and unhabituated families and individuals. These censuses allow an estimate of the overall population size within the protected area.
In the case of those groups that are followed on a daily basis, accurate numbers of animals per group are available without additional census. Monitoring of the gorillas on a daily basis is therefore preferable. In the highland sector of the park, the gorilla population consists of 1 habituated group, 1 group in the process of being habituated, and 8 others.
Through daily recording, we aim to collect data on 10 gorilla groups, including group composition, state of health, activities, and social interactions within the group. This monitoring enables tracking of the number of individuals per group, and group dynamics. The daily checking of unhabituated groups will provide basic data only.
Inconsistencies in monitoring data may be caused by inter-observer variance, by inexperience since the trackers do not carry out their monitoring activities regularly, by the relatively small number of trackers able to read and write, and by a general lack of motivation and confidence.
This has prompted the Park Management and the heads of the Research and Monitoring Programme, Tourism Programme and Programme for the Management/Protection of the Ecosystem to propose activities that encourage improved accuracy in monitoring. In the future, the monitoring results will help the management to respond rapidly to challenges in the effective organisation of field work.
Ten gorilla groups had previously been identified in the highland sector of the KBNP. Monitoring has confirmed that what used to be 2 groups, Mankoto I and Mankoto II, have joined up to form a single group, reducing the number of groups from 10 to 9.
We will keep track of the gorillas’ home ranges in the future, in order to document their movements and to improve their security within their ranges.
Habitat monitoring provides us with information on what each gorilla group eats and the seasonality of food supplies. Group location and food plants have become the key main elements of observation. During the second quarter of 2011 the gorillas were observed eating the plant species listed in the table at the right.
In order to ensure that the monitoring is done correctly, guides and trackers have participated in a training course. They were taught to differentiate between a nest that was actually slept in and a nest that was started but never finished, and to distinguish between different individual gorillas.
Since the start of the monitoring programme we have been able to provide more information on the gorillas and, at the same time, to take timely decisions in response to urgent and difficult situations.
Now that the number of gorillas in the highland sector is known, the challenge is to extend the work to the lowland sector, where no census has taken place since the armed conflict started in the region. Currently, the park’s efforts in the lowland sector are limited to observing the key species during regular patrols. A census is required to determine how many apes still occur in this part of the park. The park therefore appeals to concerned individuals or organisations to provide assistance to the park to carry out the required surveys.
A Name for the New Gorilla Group
On the occasion of World Tourism Day, the park’s new gorilla group received a name. The provincial authorities and local heads of various state services were led by the Club of the Friends of Nature to participate in a naming game, which resulted in a permanent name for the group. The previously termed “new group” henceforth will be called Cibubula, which means “Eat in peace what you have received in peace”.
Radar Birhashirwa Nishuli