Conservation efforts to save the endangered mountain gorillas are paying off, with the latest census counting over 1,000 gorillas. This is an increase from the previously counted 800.
The count revealed 604 mountain gorillas living in trans-boundary Virunga Massif in the Virunga Mountains. This vast area that covers Rwanda, DR Congo and Uganda, previously counted 480.
The remaining mountain gorillas live in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda. Here, the 2018 Bwindi-Sarambwe mountain gorilla survey found a minimum of 459 mountain gorillas, an increase from the previous survey estimate in 2011 of 400.
This brings the total world population of endangered mountain gorillas to 1,063, a figure attributed to the effectiveness of conservation policies and strategies, including regulated tourism, daily protection and veterinary interventions, intensive law enforcement, community conservation projects, and transboundary collaboration.
Conservation of mountain gorillas
Conservation initiatives and efforts are increasingly attracting support locally and from around the world. President of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, applauded conservationists for their role in the population growth of the mountain gorillas in the Virunga massif. He recently posted on twitter;
“Encouraging to see the mountain gorilla population in the Virungas has grown 25% in the last eight years. Conservation efforts must continue.”President of Rwanda, Paul Kagame
American television personality Ellen DeGeneres joined the conservation efforts when she visited Rwanda. Ellen is soon to set up a facility, dubbed The Ellen DeGeneres Campus of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, to help protect the critically endangered mountain gorillas in the Virunga Mountains. The centre is a birthday gift Ellen received from her long-term partner, Portia De Rossi.
After trekking up the Virunga mountains, Ellen shared a video of her experience, noting that spending time with these gorillas changed her life.
“Thank you to everyone who is helping Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund @SavingGorillas and EDWF save them. You can get involved here. http://ellendegenereswildlifefund.org.”Ellen DeGeneres
Spending time with these gorillas changed my life. Thank you to everyone who is helping Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund @SavingGorillas and EDWF save them. You can get involved here. https://t.co/j3gffqkJr9 -ED pic.twitter.com/rk5ZqDTScR— The Ellen Fund (@TheEllenFund) May 30, 2018
Putting the plight of mountain gorillas on a world stage has aided in the interest of travellers to visit, ultimately a boost to tourism in the region.
Heritage Safaris, Managing Partner and Board Secretary to the Rwanda Tourism and Travel Association (RTTA), Sifa Uwera, said
“with the rising numbers of the mountain gorillas in the Virunga-Volcanoes-Bwindi Parks, we can expect revenues to increase in tandem. We can also expect revenues to ultimately increase contributions to the GDP and country economies that directly benefit from gorilla tourism.”Heritage Safaris, Managing Partner and Board Secretary to the Rwanda Tourism and Travel Association (RTTA), Sifa Uwera
Contributions from organisations are also key to the conservation efforts. African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) early this year handed over 27 hectares of land on the outskirts of Volcanoes National Park in Northern Province, to boost the ongoing effort to expand the habitat of the rare mountain gorillas.
Mountain gorillas still at risk
While the increase is positive news, the report does highlight that the two populations of mountain gorillas still remain small and vulnerable due to factors such as their limited habitat, climate change, dependency on resources in the park by people, and the risk of disease transmission.
Testament to the tireless effort of the rangers and trackers who protect and monitor mountain gorillas and their habitat daily, the results and the conservation efforts have come at a cost. The report says that over 175 rangers have sacrificed their lives protecting Virunga National Park in the last 20 years.
The 2018 Bwindi-Sarambwe census was conducted by the Protected Area Authorities in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (Uganda Wildlife Authority and l’Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature) under the transboundary framework of the Greater Virunga Transboundary Collaboration.
It was supported by the Rwanda Development Board, International Gorilla Conservation Programme (a coalition of Conservation International, Fauna & Flora International and WWF), Mammalian Ecology and Conservation Unit of the UC Davis Veterinary Genetics Laboratory, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, Institute of Tropical Forest Conservation, Gorilla Doctors, Conservation Through Public Health, Wildlife Conservation Society Uganda Country Office, WWF Uganda Country Office, and Bwindi Mgahinga Conservation Trust.
Funding for the census came from Fauna & Flora International, WWF, and Partners in Conservation at the Columbus Zoo & Aquarium.