Mountain gorilla population rises

By Paul Harper

File photo / Thinkstock
File photo / Thinkstock

Numbers of endangered mountain gorillas are on the increase, according to figures released this week.

The total world population of mountain gorillas has risen to 880, according to census data released by the Uganda Wildlife Authority, up from about 786 in 2010.

The critically endangered animals live in only two locations, Bwindi and the Virunga Massif area, which spans parts of Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda and Rwanda.

A total of 400 mountain gorillas have been confirmed to be living in Bwindi and 480 were counted in the Virunga Massif in 2010. Gorilla populations in both areas have increased over the past decade.

World Wildlife Fund African great ape programme manager, David Greer, says mountain gorillas are the only great ape experiencing a population increase. He said this was largely due to intensive conservation efforts and community engagement.

WWF says the greatest threat to mountain gorillas are entanglement in hunting snares, disease transfer from humans, and habitat loss.

The prospect of oil exploration in Democratic Republic of the Congo's Virunga National Park by petroleum companies is also cause for concern for the organisation.

While oil drilling would not occur directly in gorilla habitat, WWF says industrial activity would compromise the integrity of Virunga National Park, which is UNESCO World Heritage Site. An influx of workers and heavy equipment could greatly threaten the park's prized biodiversity, which also includes elephants, hippos and the rare okapi antelope, Greer says.

"More people in Virunga would likely lead to an increase in deforestation, illegal hunting and more snares in the forest.

"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."

Mountain gorillas live in social groups and the census results indicate the 400 mountain gorillas in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park form 36 distinct social groups and 16 solitary males. Ten of these social groups are habituated to human presence for either tourism or research.

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