Although tourism has been very successful in protecting the remnant mountain gorillas of Rwanda and Uganda it has not succeeded with the remaining 95%+ of gorillas: western gorillas who live in Central Africa. One major reason is that western gorillasmove about ten times further each day than mountain gorillas, taking five times longer (five years) to habituate to human approach. Maintaining contact with western gorillas then requires close following all day every day by rotating teams of highly skilled trackers. Consequently, western gorilla tourism not only entails high gorilla stress and disease exposure, it involves large startup and recurrent costs and a long time lag to revenue generation. It is neither biologically sustainable nor economically viable. A promising solution to these problems is radio telemetry, which allow habituation teams then tourists to move directly to gorillas then leave them undisturbed the rest of the time. This should reduce habituation time by a factor of five and eliminate the need for continuous tracking by large teams. We expect reductions in stress, disease exposure, and operating costs to also be on the order of 80%.
ApesInc has been collaborating with the Aspinall Foundation to develop new methods for radio tracking gorillas. The thick necks of gorillas preclude traditional radio collars. Therefore, our initial focus has been finding alternative attachment methods. We have already conducted five trials, with ankle bracelets performing best. Our challenge now is to find a design that will resist the formidable destructive power of gorilla teeth. To that end we will soon launch “Gorilla Proof”, an international engineering design competition. This will be followed by “Gorilla Track”, a similar competition to design the hardware and software for an array of automated stations for retransmitting VHF radio signals from gorilla anklet transmitter to a base station. Pilot fieldwork in Gabon suggests that off-the-shelf components can be used to build a low cost but high performance array system that will allow us to monitor gorilla movements in real time. We plan to fund the construction and testing of the anklets and the array system through both traditional sources and new online crowdfunding mechanisms such as KickStarter. Once we have the system up and running in the field, it will also be used as the basis for scientific studies comparing gorilla and human spatial cognition as well as a GorillaTrack cell phone app.
Read about ApesInc’s Gorilla Radio Telemetry Anklet trials here