Record Number of Mountain Gorillas Found in Virunga Region

A mountain gorilla peeks out from the jungle foliage of Rwanda. Henrik Sommerfeld/flickr

The African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) recently announced the results of a mountain gorilla census conducted in 174 square miles of three national parks in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Rwanda and Uganda, along with Uganda's Bwindi Impenetrable Forest — and the news is good.

More than 1,000 individuals were counted in the Virunga mountain area, an increase from the 880 gorillas in 2011, according to the AWF.

Twelve teams swept the 1,242 miles of forests twice, collecting multiple signs of gorillas. Physical signs, like physical sightings or the presence of nests, were counted. Fecal matter gathered from those nests were also used to gather genetic material, the "most reliable" way to get an accurate count of gorillas in the areas.

"In a world where most conservation stories are frustratingly depressing, the results of the new census portray an exciting and positive trend of decades-long population growth," Craig R. Sholley, senior vice president of AWF, said in a statement. "A concerted and strategic conservation effort throughout the region has made this possible and should be examined as a model for species protection elsewhere throughout the continent."

Those conservation efforts include enhanced community and veterinary support and the presence of rangers. Rangers in Virunga face a variety of threats as they patrol the region to keep the animal inhabitants safe from poachers and bandits. Six employees of the Virunga National Park in the DRC were killed last April.

The census teams discovered close to 400 illegal snares intended for antelope, but the the snares have the unintended side effect of harming gorillas as well. Indeed, the searchers discovered one gorilla dead in such a snare.

The census-takers also took a count of other mammals in the process of counting gorillas, including elephants. Over the past eight years, there hasn't been a decline among the region's elephant population.