Mountain gorilla census shows population increase

Analysis of a census conducted earlier in 2010 indicates mountain gorillas now number 480 individuals in 36 groups along with 14 solitary silverback males in the Virunga Massif, a range of volcanoes on the borders of Uganda, Rwanda and Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

The Virunga Massif is one of only two places on Earth where mountain gorillas now live. The other, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda, showed a population of 302 mountain gorillas when censused in 2006.  When added to the four orphaned gorillas in a sanctuary in DRC, this brings the total world population of mountain gorillas to 786 individuals.

The last census undertaken in the Virunga Massif was in 2003, when the population was estimated at 380 individuals. The current figure represents an increase of over 25% in the population of mountain gorillas in this area over the last seven years.

This increase in the population occurred despite the killing of nine mountain gorillas, in four separate incidents, during this time period.

Census team

Of the 480 mountain gorillas censused, 352 (73%) were habituated (349 in groups and three solitary males) and 128 were unhabituated (117 in groups and 11 solitary males).

“This population has made an absolutely remarkable recovery from the approximately 250 individuals that existed only three decades ago.” said Dr Augustin Basabose, Coordinator of Species at the International Gorilla Conservation Programme (IGCP)

“This recovery is due to the relentless collaborative efforts of many organisations and institutions in the DRC, Rwanda and Uganda”

The census itself was an exercise in collaboration, with IGCP playing a lead role in attracting support for the census and coordinating all participating institutions and organisations.

While the incredible increase in this population of mountain gorillas is clearly a cause for celebration, the threats to their existence are persistent. A recent patrol discovered and destroyed just over 200 snares in the Virunga Massif. Although poachers typically do not target mountain gorillas the snares pose a threat nonetheless.

“We are proud of the contribution we have made to the conservation of mountain gorillas over the last 20 years and we continue to vigilantly support transboundary collaboration and those on the front lines in the parks and surrounding communities,” said Eugene Rutagarama, Director of IGCP.

“Collectively, we cannot let down our guard on the conservation of these incredible animals. While mountain gorillas are physically strong, they are also incredibly vulnerable.”

The International Gorilla Conservation Programme is a coalition of AWF, WWF and Fauna & Flora International.

Further funds are urgently needed to carry on with essential conservation activities for mountain gorillas. You can donate to IGCP via their website.

You can find out more information on the census by visiting the IGCP website.