Photos: Mountain gorillas rebound thanks to careful interventions

Hirwa and two other great apes are part of the world's longest-running gorilla study — a project begun in 1967 by famed American primatologist Dian Fossey. Yet Fossey herself, who died in 1985, would likely be surprised any mountain gorillas are left to study. Alarmed by rising rates of poaching and deforestation in central Africa, she predicted the species could go extinct by 2000. Instead, a concerted and sustained conservation campaign has averted the worst and given a second chance to these great apes, which share about 98% of human DNA. In 2005, the government adopted a model to steer 5% of tourism revenue from Volcanoes National Park to build infrastructure in surrounding villages, including schools and health clinics thus creating a space for both the gorillas and humans to co-exist peacefully.

UPDATED ON NOV 03, 2019 12:29 PM IST 10 Photos
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Jean Claude Masengesho draws a silverback gorilla in Kinigi, Rwanda. He would like to someday become a tour guide, which would earn him about $320 monthly. The obstacle is that most tour guides have attended college, and the 21-year old isn’t sure how his family can afford tuition. “It’s my dream, but it’s very hard,” he says. “In this village, every young person’s dream is to work in the park.” (Felipe Dana / AP)

Jean Claude Masengesho draws a silverback gorilla in Kinigi, Rwanda. He would like to someday become a tour guide, which would earn him about $320 monthly. The obstacle is that most tour guides have attended college, and the 21-year old isn’t sure how his family can afford tuition. “It’s my dream, but it’s very hard,” he says. “In this village, every young person’s dream is to work in the park.” (Felipe Dana / AP)

UPDATED ON NOV 03, 2019 12:29 PM IST
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Hirwa and two other great apes are part of the world’s longest-running gorilla study — a project begun in 1967 by famed American primatologist Dian Fossey. Yet Fossey herself, who died in 1985, would likely be surprised any mountain gorillas are left to study. Alarmed by rising rates of poaching and deforestation in central Africa, she predicted the species could go extinct by 2000. (Felipe Dana / AP)

Hirwa and two other great apes are part of the world’s longest-running gorilla study — a project begun in 1967 by famed American primatologist Dian Fossey. Yet Fossey herself, who died in 1985, would likely be surprised any mountain gorillas are left to study. Alarmed by rising rates of poaching and deforestation in central Africa, she predicted the species could go extinct by 2000. (Felipe Dana / AP)

UPDATED ON NOV 03, 2019 12:29 PM IST
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Gorilla tracker Fidele searches for gorillas from the Titus group in the Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda. Instead, a concerted and sustained conservation campaign has averted the worst and given a second chance to these great apes, which share about 98% of human DNA. Last fall, the Switzerland-based International Union for Conservation of Nature changed the status of mountain gorillas from “critically endangered” to “endangered,” an improved if still-fragile designation, reflecting new survey data. (Felipe Dana / AP)

Gorilla tracker Fidele searches for gorillas from the Titus group in the Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda. Instead, a concerted and sustained conservation campaign has averted the worst and given a second chance to these great apes, which share about 98% of human DNA. Last fall, the Switzerland-based International Union for Conservation of Nature changed the status of mountain gorillas from “critically endangered” to “endangered,” an improved if still-fragile designation, reflecting new survey data. (Felipe Dana / AP)

UPDATED ON NOV 03, 2019 12:29 PM IST
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Urwibutso, Segasira and Pato, three silverback mountain gorillas eat plants in the Park. Instead of disappearing, the number of mountain gorillas — a subspecies of eastern gorillas — has risen from 680 a decade ago to just over 1,000 today. Their population is split between two regions, including mist-covered defunct volcanoes within Congo, Uganda and Rwanda — one of Africa’s smallest and most densely populated countries. (Felipe Dana / AP)

Urwibutso, Segasira and Pato, three silverback mountain gorillas eat plants in the Park. Instead of disappearing, the number of mountain gorillas — a subspecies of eastern gorillas — has risen from 680 a decade ago to just over 1,000 today. Their population is split between two regions, including mist-covered defunct volcanoes within Congo, Uganda and Rwanda — one of Africa’s smallest and most densely populated countries. (Felipe Dana / AP)

UPDATED ON NOV 03, 2019 12:29 PM IST
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Children watch a drone flying near the Volcanoes National Park in Kinigi. Once depicted in legends and films like “King Kong” as fearsome beasts, gorillas are actually languid primates that eat only plants and insects, and live in fairly stable, extended family groups. Their strength and chest-thumping displays are generally reserved for contests between male rivals. (Felipe Dana / AP)

Children watch a drone flying near the Volcanoes National Park in Kinigi. Once depicted in legends and films like “King Kong” as fearsome beasts, gorillas are actually languid primates that eat only plants and insects, and live in fairly stable, extended family groups. Their strength and chest-thumping displays are generally reserved for contests between male rivals. (Felipe Dana / AP)

UPDATED ON NOV 03, 2019 12:29 PM IST
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Farmers work on their land near the Volcanoes National Park. “Our hospital is the forest,” says Jean Bosco Noheli, a veterinarian at Gorilla Doctors. When his team goes into the field to address a gorilla emergency, they must carry everything they might need in equipment bags weighing up to 100 pounds — including portable X-ray machines. (Felipe Dana / AP)

Farmers work on their land near the Volcanoes National Park. “Our hospital is the forest,” says Jean Bosco Noheli, a veterinarian at Gorilla Doctors. When his team goes into the field to address a gorilla emergency, they must carry everything they might need in equipment bags weighing up to 100 pounds — including portable X-ray machines. (Felipe Dana / AP)

UPDATED ON NOV 03, 2019 12:29 PM IST
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Biologist Jean Paul Hirwa walks down a trail to observe mountain gorillas. Today, highly regulated tour groups hike in the Rwandan rainforest to watch gorillas. Within Volcanoes National Park, tour groups are limited to eight people at a time, with only an hour spent observing gorillas. You can’t carry food or even water bottles near the animals, lest a curious silverback snatch them and perhaps be exposed to your germs. (Felipe Dana / AP)

Biologist Jean Paul Hirwa walks down a trail to observe mountain gorillas. Today, highly regulated tour groups hike in the Rwandan rainforest to watch gorillas. Within Volcanoes National Park, tour groups are limited to eight people at a time, with only an hour spent observing gorillas. You can’t carry food or even water bottles near the animals, lest a curious silverback snatch them and perhaps be exposed to your germs. (Felipe Dana / AP)

UPDATED ON NOV 03, 2019 12:29 PM IST
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Gorilla trackers Emmanuel Bizagwira (R) and Safari Gabriel observe two gorillas from the Agasha group as they play in the Park. “With tourism, the tension is always not to overexploit,” says Dirck Byler, great ape conservation director at the nonprofit Global Wildlife Conservation, which is not involved in the Rwanda gorilla project. “But in Rwanda, so far they’re careful, and it’s working.” (Felipe Dana / AP)

Gorilla trackers Emmanuel Bizagwira (R) and Safari Gabriel observe two gorillas from the Agasha group as they play in the Park. “With tourism, the tension is always not to overexploit,” says Dirck Byler, great ape conservation director at the nonprofit Global Wildlife Conservation, which is not involved in the Rwanda gorilla project. “But in Rwanda, so far they’re careful, and it’s working.” (Felipe Dana / AP)

UPDATED ON NOV 03, 2019 12:29 PM IST
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Julienne, 13, poses for a photo in Kinigi, Rwanda. At Nyabitsinde Primary School, nearly every pupil has at least one relative working in nearby Volcanoes National Park. The school has new classrooms with blackboards and wooden benches, and a colorful mural outside the bathroom reads “Washing hands prevents diseases.” But the school is still short on some basic supplies, like pencils.”The money that built this school comes from tourism,” a teacher Fabien Uwimana, said. (Felipe Dana / AP)

Julienne, 13, poses for a photo in Kinigi, Rwanda. At Nyabitsinde Primary School, nearly every pupil has at least one relative working in nearby Volcanoes National Park. The school has new classrooms with blackboards and wooden benches, and a colorful mural outside the bathroom reads “Washing hands prevents diseases.” But the school is still short on some basic supplies, like pencils.”The money that built this school comes from tourism,” a teacher Fabien Uwimana, said. (Felipe Dana / AP)

UPDATED ON NOV 03, 2019 12:29 PM IST
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A silverback mountain gorilla named Segasira lies under a tree in the Park. Schaller believes that people have no right to exterminate a species, but also that “you have to find some economic benefit for the people that border the park.” “You have to involve them somehow,” he says, “make them feel it’s their park, too.” (Felipe Dana / AP)

A silverback mountain gorilla named Segasira lies under a tree in the Park. Schaller believes that people have no right to exterminate a species, but also that “you have to find some economic benefit for the people that border the park.” “You have to involve them somehow,” he says, “make them feel it’s their park, too.” (Felipe Dana / AP)

UPDATED ON NOV 03, 2019 12:29 PM IST

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