Mountain gorilla population up by over 20 percent in five years

Jeremy Hance
November 13, 2012

Mountain gorilla family in Virunga National Park. Photo by: Martin Harvey/WWF.
Mountain gorilla family in Virunga National Park. Photo by: Martin Harvey/WWF.

A mountain gorilla census in Uganda's Bwindi Impenetrable National Park has a population that continues to rise, hitting 400 animals. The new census in Bwindi means the total population of mountain gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei) has reached 880—up from 720 in 2007—and marking a growth of about 4 percent per year.

"Mountain gorillas are the only great ape experiencing a population increase," David Greer, WWF's African Great Ape Programme Manager, said in a statement. "This is largely due to intensive conservation efforts and successful community engagement."

Listed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN Red List, mountain gorillas are a subspecies of eastern gorilla. In addition to the population in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, the second mountain gorilla population is found in three parks making up the Virunga Massif area which spans into the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Uganda and Rwanda. The two populations, which don't intermingle, are imperiled by deforestation, regional conflict, disease, poaching, and also falling victim to snares set by other animals.

Meanwhile a new concern has risen for the mountain gorilla population in the DRC's Virunga National Park: oil exploitation. Oil company, SOCO International, has received exploratory permits for inside the park from the DRC government even as the UN and British government have criticized the plan. While the company will not be drilling near mountain gorilla habitat, Greer says oil drilling inside the park could bring new problems to a park already beset by conflict.

"More people in Virunga would likely lead to an increase in deforestation, illegal hunting and more snares in the forest," he explains. "At least seven Virunga mountain gorillas have been caught in snares this year and two did not survive. The gorilla population remains fragile and could easily slip into decline if conservation management was to be disregarded in the pursuit of oil money by elites."

However, the oil company has stated it would bring increased security to the park, which has frequently seen wildlife rangers killed in firefights with local militia taking refuge in the park.

Around 80 mountain gorillas persist in Virunga National Park.

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Jeremy Hance
mongabay.com (November 13, 2012).

Mountain gorilla population up by over 20 percent in five years.