Rutgers anthropologist, Fossey Fund official, announces plan to save Rwanda's mountain gorillas

November 06, 2002

NEW BRUNSWICK/PISCATAWAY, N.J. - Rutgers anthropology Professor H. Dieter Steklis, chief scientist and vice president of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International, has announced the fund's action plan to halt a recent poaching spree that has left six mountain gorillas dead, one infant in temporary captivity and several others missing in Rwanda.

Immediate preparations are being made to re-establish patrols based at Karisoke, near the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo, an area that once was the location of a camp founded by Dian Fossey in the late 1960s and where recent poaching incidents have occurred. The area has not been protected or monitored by the fund or the Rwandan national park authorities since the fund's facilities were destroyed during civil unrest in the 1990s.

The new permanent camp, organized by the fund and Rwandan and Congolese national park authorities, should be set up within the next couple of weeks, according to Steklis. As many as 15 to 20 rangers and security forces are expected to be stationed at the camp, which will include sleeping and cooking facilities.

"I guarantee that this will be a deterrent to poaching in this sector, because there will be more ears and eyes in the forest around the clock," said Steklis, who has spent extensive time at Karisoke, serving as the director of the fund's activities in Rwanda.

As the result of several poaching incidents since May, four female and two male mountain gorillas have been confirmed dead. In an analysis by Steklis' wife, Netzin Gerald Steklis, director of the fund's Scientific Information Resources Center, the four females lost could have led to the birth of as many as 427 animals over the next 50 years, assuming that in each generation a female gives birth to three surviving daughters. This estimate is based on demographic data amassed over decades by Netzin Steklis and Rutgers anthropology students.

Given that the population of mountain gorillas is only approximately 355 at this time, the loss is serious, according to Netzin Steklis. "This analysis underscores the central importance of females to the future growth and survival of this population. For a small population like this, the death of these four females is a catastrophe."

The fund's staff has been protecting, monitoring and studying the mountain gorillas of Rwanda for more than 30 years, continuing the work begun by Dian Fossey, who was killed in 1985. Fossey was the subject of the 1988 major motion picture "Gorillas in the Mist."

Steklis joined the Rutgers-New Brunswick anthropology faculty in 1974. He has been an official with the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International since 1991, first serving as director of the Karisoke Research Center for the fund in Rwanda from 1991-1993, then serving in various higher-level positions. His research on primate behavior, biology and evolution is internationally recognized, and he is the author of numerous books, chapters and journal articles on primates. He is also a member of Rutgers' Center for Human Evolutionary Studies. He holds bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees in anthropology from the University of California-Berkeley.
To arrange an interview with H. Dieter Steklis, contact Rochelle Runas, Office of Media Relations and Communications at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, 732-932-7084, extension 613.

Rutgers University

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