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Mississippi State scientists with expertise in sophisticated electronic tracking systems are part of an ongoing international effort to protect the few remaining great apes of Africa. The team is using equipment that can generate information based on geographic location to determine when and where endangered mountain gorillas come in contact with humans and domestic animals.
Every year, tourists from throughout the world pay big bucks to trek into the gorillas’ distant jungle habitat. While they contribute much-needed revenue to the cash-strapped region, the visitors also pose possible health risks to the animals. The mountain gorillas have been catching diseases from tourists in the Virunga Mountains and Vwindi Impenetrable National Park. Though only about 10 tourists make guided visits to the gorillas each day, a recent outbreak of mange among the animals has prompted scientists to take a closer look at the interaction of the mountain gorillas with humans, other primates and livestock.
The MSU research effort focuses on spatial information—time and space—in relation to the gorillas. Using data collected by guides as they take tourists into the refuge, the researchers record the location of the animals with a global positioning system, which uses satellite signals to plot locations on the ground. This data can then be incorporated into a geographic information system, or GIS, to determine where the gorillas travel and when they cross paths with humans.