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      Extreme Conservation Leads to Recovery of the Virunga Mountain Gorillas

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          As wildlife populations are declining, conservationists are under increasing pressure to measure the effectiveness of different management strategies. Conventional conservation measures such as law enforcement and community development projects are typically designed to minimize negative human influences upon a species and its ecosystem. In contrast, we define “extreme” conservation as efforts targeted to deliberately increase positive human influences, including veterinary care and close monitoring of individual animals. Here we compare the impact of both conservation approaches upon the population growth rate of the critically endangered Virunga mountain gorillas ( Gorilla beringei beringei), which increased by 50% since their nadir in 1981, from approximately 250 to nearly 400 gorillas. Using demographic data from 1967–2008, we show an annual decline of 0.7%±0.059% for unhabituated gorillas that received intensive levels of conventional conservation approaches, versus an increase 4.1%±0.088% for habituated gorillas that also received extreme conservation measures. Each group of habituated gorillas is now continuously guarded by a separate team of field staff during daylight hours and receives veterinary treatment for snares, respiratory disease, and other life-threatening conditions. These results suggest that conventional conservation efforts prevented a severe decline of the overall population, but additional extreme measures were needed to achieve positive growth. Demographic stochasticity and socioecological factors had minimal impact on variability in the growth rates. Veterinary interventions could account for up to 40% of the difference in growth rates between habituated versus unhabituated gorillas, with the remaining difference likely arising from greater protection against poachers. Thus, by increasing protection and facilitating veterinary treatment, the daily monitoring of each habituated group contributed to most of the difference in growth rates. Our results argue for wider consideration of extreme measures and offer a startling view of the enormous resources that may be needed to conserve some endangered species.

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          Most cited references 59

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          Monitoring for conservation.

          Human-mediated environmental changes have resulted in appropriate concern for the conservation of ecological systems and have led to the development of many ecological monitoring programs worldwide. Many programs that are identified with the purpose of 'surveillance' represent an inefficient use of conservation funds and effort. Here, we revisit the 1964 paper by Platt and argue that his recommendations about the conduct of science are equally relevant to the conduct of ecological monitoring programs. In particular, we argue that monitoring should not be viewed as a stand-alone activity, but instead as a component of a larger process of either conservation-oriented science or management. Corresponding changes in monitoring focus and design would lead to substantial increases in the efficiency and usefulness of monitoring results in conservation.
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            Money for Nothing? A Call for Empirical Evaluation of Biodiversity Conservation Investments

            The field of conservation policy must adopt state-of-the-art program evaluation methods to determine what works, and when, if we are to stem the global decline of biodiversity and improve the effectiveness of conservation investments.
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              Is conservation triage just smart decision making?

              Conservation efforts and emergency medicine face comparable problems: how to use scarce resources wisely to conserve valuable assets. In both fields, the process of prioritising actions is known as triage. Although often used implicitly by conservation managers, scientists and policymakers, triage has been misinterpreted as the process of simply deciding which assets (e.g. species, habitats) will not receive investment. As a consequence, triage is sometimes associated with a defeatist conservation ethic. However, triage is no more than the efficient allocation of conservation resources and we risk wasting scarce resources if we do not follow its basic principles.

                Author and article information

                Role: Editor
                PLoS One
                PLoS ONE
                Public Library of Science (San Francisco, USA )
                8 June 2011
                : 6
                : 6
                [1 ]Department of Primatology, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, Germany
                [2 ]The International Gorilla Conservation Programme, Kigali, Rwanda
                [3 ]Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International, Atlanta, Georgia, United States of America
                [4 ]Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Program, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of California Davis, Davis, California, United States of America
                [5 ]Parc National des Volcans, Rwanda Development Board, Gishushu, Kigali, Rwanda
                [6 ]Parc National des Virunga-sud, Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature, IGCP-DRC, Gisenyi, Rwanda
                [7 ]Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, Uganda Wildlife Authority, Kampala, Uganda
                [8 ]Zoo Atlanta, Atlanta, Georgia, United States of America
                University of California, Berkeley, United States of America
                Author notes

                Conceived and designed the experiments: MMR. Analyzed the data: MMR MG AMR FBN. Contributed reagents/materials/analysis tools: KAF TSS PU EK IM MG AB JB MRC FBN LHS. Wrote the paper: MMR AMR.

                Robbins et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
                Page count
                Pages: 10
                Research Article
                Conservation Science
                Environmental Protection
                Population Ecology
                Population Biology
                Population Ecology
                Social and Behavioral Sciences
                Veterinary Science
                Animal Management
                Animal Welfare
                Animal Types
                Veterinary Medicine



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