The population of critically endangered mountain gorillas in Democratic Republic of Congo’s Virunga National Park increased 12.5 percent in the past 16 months according to a census conducted by the Congolese Wildlife Authority (ICCN). 81 gorillas now live permanently in the park, up from 72 in August 2007.
ICCN estimates that around 211 mountain gorillas now live in DR Congo.
The census is a rare bit of good news in a country that has been besieged by violence and disease resulting from an ongoing war between government forces and rebels backed by Rwanda.
Juvenile gorilla in Bwindi (top), in search in gorillas in Bwindi (middle), adult male silverback gorilla (second middle), border of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Photos by Rhett A. Butler
“The status of Virunga’s Mountain Gorillas is a triumph for conservation, and is the product of 15 years’ effort and sacrifice on the part of Congo’s Rangers, of the consistent support from international organisations and individuals, and of the sustained determination of 3 African nations to protect this globally important species,” said Virunga National Park Director Emmanuel de Merode.
The census — conducted by more than 50 park rangers on 128 patrols — found that the group of gorillas that were the victim of a July 2007 massacre are recovering: the Rugendo family is up to nine members, up from five in the last count. The largest family is the Kabirizi Family, with 33 individuals including 5 newborns.
Virunga’s gorilla rangers have been in the spotlight lately for their heroic efforts to protect the park from incursions by armed militias. More than 120 rangers have died in the line of duty over the past decade, including Safari Kakule who was killed earlier this month when his patrol was attacked by members of the Mai Mai militia.
The worldwide population of mountain gorillas is now estimates at 720, all of which live in the DR Congo-Rwanda-Uganda border region. In recent years Uganda, which charges tourists $300 per day to visit selected groups of habituated gorillas, has also reported an increase in its population of mountain gorillas.