Gorillas in the bits: remote sensing boosts efforts to protect mountain gorillas & rebuild Rwanda's economy

A partnership involving conservation organizations and universities on two different continents is bringing new technology to bear on efforts to protect the endangered mountain gorillas popularized by the movie "Gorillas in the Mist." The effort will put remote sensing technology into the hands of field scientists and trackers working to protect the gorillas, while helping the nation of Rwanda rebuild its national university and recover from a devastating 1994 war and genocide.

The project, which carries on the work of naturalist Dian Fossey, will also demonstrate how advanced technologies can help in the struggle to protect other endangered species.

"Our first goal is to use modern-day technology to bring new clout to field conservation, ecosystem management and endangered species protection," explained Clare Richardson, president of the Atlanta-based Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International. "Because we are a field conservation organization, it is imperative that we aggressively pursue more efficient ways to collect data, then have experts available to analyze that data, especially as it applies to habitat."

Habitat loss poses the single greatest threat to the mountain gorillas, Richardson says. The most densely populated nation in Africa, Rwanda today struggles with the task of resettling more than a million people in the aftermath of war. The need for more crop land, as well as timber for homes and cooking, threatens the protected reserves and introduces human disease into the fragile gorilla habitat in the Virungas Mountain Range area.

The first applications of the new technology, therefore, will be to assess the existing gorilla habitat, explains Nickolas Faust, principal research scientist at the Georgia Tech Research Institute. Georgia Tech researchers will work with Dr. H. Dieter

Contact: John Toon
Georgia Institute of Technology Research News

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