Mountain gorilla numbers grow: over 1,000 now left in the wild

Census finds largest number of mountain gorillas ever recorded in the Virunga Massif

Critically endangered gorilla is only great ape in the world believed to be increasing

Global numbers of critically endangered mountain gorillas have risen above 1,000. This follows a new survey of the great ape in the Virunga Massif in east-central Africa. The rise in numbers shows the success of conservation efforts in the area, which spans the borders of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda and Rwanda and is one of the two remaining areas where the great ape is still found. But the survey also showed serious threats remain, including from poaching - especially wire or rope snares set for other animals - disease and habitat destruction.

Survey results released today reveal that numbers of mountain gorillas, one of four sub-species of gorilla, have increased to at least 604 in the Virunga Massif from an estimated 480 in 2010. This includes 41 social groups and 14 solitary males, compared with 36 groups and 14 solitary males in the 2010 survey of the same area. This brings the global wild population of mountain gorillas to an estimated 1,004, including current figures from Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (where the rest of the sub-species is found) and makes it the only great ape in the world that is believed to be increasing.

The findings are the result of intensive surveying coordinated by theGreater Virunga Transboundary Collaboration and supported by the International Gorilla Conservation Programme (IGCP – a coalition programme of Fauna & FloraInternational and WWF) along with other partners.

Reacting to the news, Fauna & Flora International vice-president and WWF UK ambassador, Sir David Attenborough said:

“When I first visited the mountain gorillas in 1979, the situation was dire; the number of these remarkable animals was dreadfully small. It is incredibly heartening therefore to see how the efforts of so many different groups – communities, governments, NGOs – have paid off. The threats to mountain gorillas haven’t disappeared entirely, of course, so now the challenge must be to ensure that these achievements are sustained long into the future.”

Despite the increase, the survey found that direct threats from wire or rope snares persist. During the surveys, the teams destroyed more than 380 snares, which were set for antelope but can also kill or harm gorillas. One of the snares discovered by the teams contained a dead mountain gorilla. There are also new threats looming large on the horizon, including climate change, infrastructure development and the ever-present spectre of disease, which has the potential to devastate the remaining populations.

Ongoing conflict and civil unrest are also an ever-present risk in the region, impacting people and wildlife. A number of rangers have been killed in recent weeks in Virunga National Park. 

Cath Lawson, regional manager for East Africa at WWF said:

is paying off, but this doesn’t mean that we can relax efforts to protect these magnificent great apes. The animals are in a unique and fragile position, with very few left in just two isolated populations. With pressure growing on the mountain gorilla, it is essential that we use the survey findings to better protect the animals and local communities whose livelihoods depend on them.”

The rise in mountain gorillas in the Virunga Massif is thanks to decades of concerted action to protect the gorillas and their habitat.

Alison Mollon, Director of Operations for Africa at Fauna & Flora International (FFI), said:

“Since FFI first began working to protect mountain gorillas in the 1970s, we have seen a remarkable transformation in the fortunes of this great ape, which at that time was on the very precipice of extinction. This turnaround is thanks to the extraordinary efforts of all those who have persisted through immense challenges – sometimes even risking their own lives – to protect these great apes. Today, mountain gorilla numbers are looking much healthier, but this is no time for complacency. We need to remain extremely vigilant, particularly in light of the ever-present and growing threat posed by the transmission of human-borne diseases that are relatively innocuous for us, but potentially fatal to other primates.”

The census involved twelve teams - comprising people from more than 10 institutions – which covered over 2,000 km of difficult, forested terrain systematically searching the mountain gorilla habitat for signs of the animals, recording nest sites and collecting faeces samples for genetic analysis. The teams also looked for evidence of threats to gorillas and other wildlife.

The survey results underscore the need for continued attention and action by government agencies, protected area staff, tourism operators, tourists and communities alike, to ward off these threats and keep mountain gorillas safe in the long term.

- Ends -

  1. The Virunga Massif is a 451 km2 area spanning the DRC, Rwanda and Uganda and is just one of just two places on earth where mountain gorillas can still be found. The other is Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda, contiguous with Sarambwe Nature Reserve in DRC.
  2. The previous mountain gorilla census in the Virunga Massif took place in 2010 resulting in an estimate of 480 individuals in 36 social groups and 14 solitary males. The data and samples for this more recent survey were collected between October 7 – December 6, 2015 and March 22 – May 23, 2016.
  3. The mountain gorilla is currently classified by IUCN Red List of Threatened SpeciesTM as Critically Endangered. http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/39999/0
  4. The 2015/2016 Virunga Massif mountain gorilla census was conducted by the Protected Area Authorities in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda (l’Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature, the Rwanda Development Board and the Uganda Wildlife Authority) under the transboundary framework of the Greater Virunga Transboundary Collaboration. The census was supported by the International Gorilla Conservation Programme (a coalition programme of Fauna & Flora International and WWF), the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, the Institute of Tropical Forest Conservation, Gorilla Doctors, and the North Carolina Zoo. The census was funded through generous contributions from Fauna & Flora International, WWF, and Partners in Conservation at the Columbus Zoo & Aquarium. Additional financial support to the census science committee provided by Berggorilla & Regenwald Direkthilfe.

About WWF

WWF is one of the world’s largest independent conservation organisations, with more than five million supporters and a global network active in more than one hundred countries. Through our engagement with the public, businesses and government, we focus on safeguarding the natural world, creating solutions to the most serious environmental issues facing our planet, so that people and nature thrive.  Find out more about our work, past and present at wwf.org.uk

About Fauna & Flora International (FFI)

FFI protects threatened species and ecosystems worldwide, choosing solutions that are sustainable, based on sound science and that take account of human needs. Operating in more than 40 countries worldwide, FFI saves species from extinction and habitats from destruction, while improving the livelihoods of local people. Founded in 1903, FFI is the world’s longest established international conservation body and a registered charity. www.fauna-flora.org

About the International Gorilla Conservation Programme (IGCP)

IGCP is a coalition programme of Fauna & Flora International and WWF with a mission to secure the future for mountain gorillas. IGCP achieves this through working in partnership with State and non-

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Image by David Bacon

State actors in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda. Its Directorate is located in Kigali, Rwanda. www.igcp.org

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