A boom in the population of Ugandan mountain gorillas gives park managers and wildlife lovers a lot to smile about, just two years after being taken off the 'critically endangered' list.
The Uganda Wildlife Authority has reported the birth of seven baby gorillas this year – a number almost four times greater than the largest annual record.
The latest arrival was born to last Monday to 16-year-old mountain gorilla Ndikahe, in the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Bwindi has the most fertile troupes of gorillas in the country's two parks housing the animals, with five new additions this year.
The other is Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, which adjoins the larger cross-border Virunga conservation area - shared between Uganda the DRC and Rwanda. The conservation area was the focus of a 2014 Oscar-nominated documentary, that told the story of how the area and its gorillas survived invasion by oil prospectors and a violent civil war.
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Thanks to the work of rangers in Uganda, and the wider conservation area mountain gorillas were taken off the IUCN's critically endangered list – the animals were reclassified as 'endangered' in 2018. This year a gorilla census for Bwindi put the number of animals in the park to over 450, for the first time.
"The birth of new mountain gorillas is testimony to Uganda's successful conservation efforts," said UWA director Sam Mwandha.
The parks are staffed 24 hours a day by veterinary teams and anti-poaching patrols. The animals are protected by law in Uganda – with harsh punishments for poaching.
In July a man was sentenced to 11 years in prison over the death of a Silverback mountain gorilla named Rafiki, in Bwindi National Park.
The parks which are normally the centre of Uganda's eco-tourism sector have struggled to cover costs, after the coronavirus pandemic halted visitations for months.
Popular Gorilla Trekking itineraries had been subsidising the work of the UWA, and had appeared in the New York Times' Travel must see list for 2020. 60 per cent of international tourists to the country opt to visit one of the gorilla sanctuaries.
On Monday, Bloomberg reported that the sector is seeking a 40 billion Ugandan shilling ($16 million) loan from the EU.