The greatest ape

Around 1,004 mountain gorillas remain in the world today. Two isolated populations survive in afro-montane forest, one in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, south-western Uganda, and the other on the forested slopes of the Virunga massif, straddling the borders of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Rwanda and Uganda. During the 20th century, a combination of hunting and habitat destruction drove this very rare primate to the verge of extinction. Today, the species is listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Mountain gorilla facts

  • Mountain gorillas have longer hair and shorter arms than Grauer’s gorillas and both tend to be a bit larger than other gorilla subspecies (western lowland and Cross River)
  • They live in family groups with a dominant silverback male, several females and their offspring – although sometimes other, usually related, silverbacks are also tolerated
  • Males will defend their families through intimidating displays including charging and chest-beating
  • They are mainly vegetarian with a predominantly plant-based diet
  • They generally move on four limbs but are also capable of running on two legs
At a glance
Gorilla beringei beringei
Endangered
Democratic Republic of CongoRwandaUganda

Family:

Hominidae

Order:

Primates

Est. in the wild:

1,004

The mountain gorilla is found in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Uganda.

1,004

mountain gorillas remain in the world today.

98%

of our DNA is shared with gorillas.

Conservation story

Fauna & Flora International (FFI) was supporting mountain gorilla conservation as early as 1971, but our work began in earnest in 1978 when we set up the Mountain Gorilla Project to protect the dwindling gorilla population in Rwanda from the growing threats posed by poaching and habitat degradation.

In 1991, recognising that urgent measures were needed to protect mountain gorillas not just in Rwanda but throughout their range, we established a coalition called the International Gorilla Conservation Programme (IGCP) in collaboration with partners including WWF and the park authorities in the three countries to which mountain gorillas are confined.

Today, all three countries have separate but adjoining national parks. This transboundary situation adds an extra dimension to the already complicated task of conserving mountain gorillas. IGCP has met this additional challenge head-on, however, by adopting a collaborative regional approach to conservation efforts, including cross-border cooperation between rangers to coordinate gorilla population monitoring, anti-poaching activities and even joint patrols.

IGCP also works closely with communities living close to the park, supporting community-run, conservation-related enterprises and working to alleviate human-wildlife conflict.

Over a quarter of a century of hard work has resulted in a steady rise in the number of mountain gorillas from a few hundred in the 1970s to over 1,000 today. Persistent threats remain, however, and new ones are emerging. IGCP continues to work with national authorities, communities and business to secure the future for mountain gorillas.

How FFI is helping to save the mountain gorilla

Through IGCP, FFI is ensuring the survival of these magnificent creatures and their afro-montane forest habitat. Active conservation includes support for law enforcement and harmonised policy across the three countries where mountain gorillas are found, regular monitoring and census counts, strong programmes to engage local communities in the protection of gorillas, and working with businesses including tourism initiatives to ensure that they follow best-practice guidelines and minimise risk to the species.

In November 2018, the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species updated the status of mountain gorillas from critically endangered to endangered, following a major effort to understand how these great apes are faring. This is fantastic and is testament to what concerted conservation efforts can achieve. However, FFI has urged that mountain gorilla conservation efforts are enhanced not weakened in response to this news.