The mountain gorilla remains a critically endangered species, but we’ve seen the population finally reach above 1,000. That number is based on a census in the few major habitats that contain mountain gorillas. It’s an increase that shows the success in conservation efforts, though further action is needed to keep them safe.
As you’d expect, mountain gorillas get their name from living in forests located on top of mountains with an elevation between 8,000 to 13,000 feet in the air. They’ve been pushing further up the mountain to get away from human establishments, and their fur keeps them from freezing in the cold climate.
Discovered back in 1902, the mountain gorilla population has been threatened with habitat destruction, hunting, and disease. The majority of them are found in the Virunga Mountains, located along the border of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda. The rest of them are found at the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park inside of Uganda.
Various teams recently surveyed the population in the Virunga Mountains, the first time since 2010. They’ve found an increase of mountain gorillas, going up from 480 to 604 across 41 social groups. Last year, the total population was set at approximately 880 gorillas according to the World Wildlife Fund.
The last time the Bwindi Impenetrable park was surveyed was in 2012 with a count of just over 400 mountain gorillas. The Guardian reported at the time there were 36 social groups and 16 solitary males.
While they’re still on the critically endangered species list, the mountain gorilla population has been growing for the past 35 years. David Attenborough, an English broadcaster and naturalist whose been outspoken about plastic pollution harming the environment, had a famous interaction with a mountain gorilla on the documentary series, Life on Earth, in 1979.
At the time, the mountain gorilla population was at a serious low. Attenborough told The Guardian that his meeting with the gorilla had “meaning and mutual understanding” and the animal was “so like us.” What’s helped over the years has been better conservation efforts, vet care, park rangers, and regulating tourism.
"Mountain gorillas have only survived because of conservation,” Drew McVey, species program manager at WWF UK, told The Guardian back in 2012. “Protected areas are better managed and resourced than they have ever been, and our work is a lot more cross-cutting to address threats - we don't just work with the animals in the national parks, but also with the people."
Conservation essentially began in the late 1970s for the mountain gorilla, especially in terms of education and tourism attraction. Protected great apes drastically improved Rwanda’s economy until a civil war broke out in the ‘90s. Luckily, few gorillas were killed during this time while rangers and environmentalists stayed to protect the species.
Gorillas have ultimately been the WWF’s flagship species for over 50 years. They’ve been working to protect all four subspecies of gorillas, including Eastern/Western lowland and cross river along with mountain gorillas. We can make a difference ourselves by donating to the WWF or simply purchasing FSC-certified forest products.