The Virunga Mountains, where Nzayisenga works, are home to most of the world’s mountain gorillas. By the 1980s, this population had dwindled to only 242 individuals. Dian Fossey, an American primatologist who had studied gorillas since 1967, set out to protect them. Before she died in 1985, her organization hired the first veterinarian to treat gorillas in Rwanda. That work led to the founding of Gorilla Doctors.
The Karisoke (kahr-ee-SOH-kee) Research Center in northern Rwanda also continues the work that Fossey started. Its staff checks on groups of mountain gorillas daily. They also help villagers develop new farming techniques so they don’t need to hunt in the forest to survive.
To find out if these efforts are working, scientists count mountain gorillas. They hike through the forest and collect the apes’ droppings. The dung contains DNA that scientists can use to identify each gorilla. In 2016, a research team led by Karisoke scientist Winnie Eckardt (EK-ert) used this method to count 604 gorillas in the Virunga Mountains. That’s the most ever found in the area! “There’s strong evidence that the population is growing,” says Eckardt.