Mountain gorillas have become the only wild apes whose population numbers are known to be improving.
In the 1970s, conservationists began conducting censuses of mountain gorillas in Rwanda's Virunga Mountains. After years of decline, the number plummeted to a dispiriting low of 242 individuals in 1981. Figures for the ninth such population count have just been released and the numbers – while still achingly low – are an incredible testimony to the powers of conservation.
The Virunga population has grown from 480 individuals in 2010 to 604 as of June 2016. Combined with another mountain gorilla population living in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda, the total number of mountain gorillas now stands at 1,000 individuals.
“Today’s announcement represents a huge success for conservation at a time when such success stories are increasingly rare. All those working to protect mountain gorillas – the governments of Rwanda, Uganda and DR Congo; conservation organizations; and local communities – have a lot to be proud of,” says Dr. Tara Stoinski, President and CEO/Chief Scientific Officer of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, which had a large role in the count and works tirelessly on behalf of the gorillas.
The slow but consistent uptick is due to intensive protection provided round-the-clock by conservation organizations and the diligence of national park authorities. Even so, as Stoinski points out, continued protection is essential and must persist thanks to the still small population numbers and the high level of threats they face, including limited habitat, intense human encroachment, snares set for other animals, disease, and climate change.
To that end, the Fossey Fund is building a new gorilla conservation center in Rwanda, named the Ellen DeGeneres Campus of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund. (Thanks, Ellen!) The campus will serve as the new home for the Karisoke Research Center, which is the hub of the Fossey Fund’s protection, research, training and community outreach programs in Rwanda.
We can only imagine that Fossey, who was killed in Rwanda in 1985, would be pleased.
“Dian Fossey thought mountain gorillas would go extinct by the year 2000. Their survival and continued increase clearly shows that intensive conservation efforts can work,” says Stoinski.
For more on their amazing work and to find out how you can help, visit the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund.