The total population of free-ranging mountain gorillas is now 1,063, according to an encouraging new survey.
Population figures for mountain gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei) are heading in the right direction, according to new census findings provided by Fauna & Flora International, a conservation group that works to protect the endangered species. At 1,063 confirmed individuals, these animals are still pitifully low in number, but it would appear that conservation efforts to preserve them are working.
The latest survey results are for the Bwindi region of Uganda and the connected Sarambwe Nature Reserve in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)—one of only two places in the world where mountain gorillas are found, the other being the volcanic Virungas region of the DRC. The population of Bwindi-Sarambwe mountain gorillas has grown to 459, according to the new results, which is 59 more than the figure from 2011, according to a UC Davis press release. A survey done a couple of years ago established the Virungas population at 604 individuals, which gives us our grand total of 1,063 mountain gorillas. The newly updated figure is nearly double from what it was just one decade ago, when the total population was estimated at 680 individuals.
Over 75 trained surveyors were involved in the recent census project, which is being supported by the International Gorilla Conservation Programme (IGCP)—a coalition that involves Fauna & Flora International, the World Wildlife Fund, and Conservation International, among other partners.
Last year, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) changed the status of mountain gorillas from Critically Endangered to Endangered, a decision prompted by the total population reaching 1,000 individuals. The closely related Eastern Gorilla (Gorilla beringei) sadly remains Critically Endangered. These latest figures are a strong indication that conservation efforts are working, but there’s still plenty of room for improvement, particularly among government agencies, park officials, the tourist industry, and local communities.
“These survey results are undoubtedly good news, yet mountain gorillas remain threatened with extinction,” said Matt Walpole, a senior director at Fauna & Flora International, in a press release. “We have to remain vigilant against threats and build on the success achieved to date by ensuring resources—including from tourism—are properly directed to mountain gorillas and local communities.”
Threats currently facing mountain gorillas include loss of habitat, climate change, civil unrest, and the spread of human-borne diseases. Wire and rope snares meant to trap antelopes can also ensnare gorillas, posing yet further risks to the animals. According to Fauna & Flora International, the survey team detected and destroyed 88 snares which, disappointingly, is around the same number of snares found earlier this decade.
The surveyors also documented population rises among elephants and chimpanzees in the Bwindi-Sarambwe ecosystem, which is also good news.
This upswing in population for the mountain gorillas is encouraging on multiple levels, including the way this population uptick could further protect the species from a lack of genetic diversity. A related group of threatened gorillas, the eastern lowland gorilla (a.k.a. Grauer’s gorilla), is already known to suffer from low genetic diversity, which causes fertility problems and a reduced ability to ward off infectious diseases.