In for the count – assessing critical gorilla numbers

The critically endangered mountain gorilla’s current status is to be revealed through a new census to determine its population size in the Virunga Volcanoes, the International Gorilla Conservation Programme (IGCP) announced yesterday.

The Virunga Volcanoes, an area that straddles the borders of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Rwanda and Uganda in Eastern and Central Africa, is one of only two locations where mountain gorillas live. It is home to an estimated population of 680 gorillas. Though the area is now relatively calm, recent conflict has left the gorillas there vulnerable.

The last Virunga Volcanoes census in 2003 resulted in an estimate of 380 individuals, with the remaining individuals living in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park Uganda.

80 team members from the Wildlife and National Park Authorities of Uganda, Rwanda and the DRC and partners will collaborate on the census. The survey will launch on 1st March and will take about eight weeks to cover the entire Virunga gorilla habitat range.

The census is an opportunity to make an accurate count of the total gorilla population in the area. Faecal samples will be collected for genetic analysis to confirm the population size and for better understanding of the genetic variability and health status of the population.

Such monitoring is vitally important in understanding the long-term viability of such a small population of critically endangered animals. It is also useful for measuring the effects of the recent conflict on the gorillas..

Eugene Rutagarama, Director, IGCP, stated “The gorilla census is an exercise enabling us to assess the impact of conservation efforts carried out by all gorilla conservation stakeholders,”

“We are hoping that the census will confirm a continuous increase of the mountain gorilla population and guide us on how we can further contribute to the growth of this still endangered population.”

The International Gorilla Conservation Programme is a coalition of AWF, WWF and FFI.