New Mountain Gorilla Census Reveals Unprecedented Results

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Today the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) celebrates a conservation win for mountain gorillas after a new census revealed that their total population has surpassed 1,000, up from the previous global number of 880 in 2011. The 1000-plus figure represents the largest number of mountain gorillas ever recorded in the transboundary Virunga Massif encompassing 174 square miles of three national parks in Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Uganda, plus Uganda's Bwindi Impenetrable Forest—the only other location in the world where this critically endangered great ape is found.

The census was conducted by 12 teams using two thorough sweeps of over 1,242 miles of densely forested terrain.  It included data collection of physical signs—actual sightings of gorillas and their nest sites—as well as genetic testing of fecal samples removed from the nests, which offers the most reliable results. The new census reveals that, once again, mountain gorillas are the world’s only great ape species increasing in population and speaks to the concerted efforts of three countries, their dedicated rangers and trackers, local communities, and international conservation organizations all working together to protect these charismatic animals.

“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,” said Craig R. Sholley, senior vice president of AWF.  “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.”

Although it was not the primary purpose of the survey, the teams also collected data from other mammals, such as elephants, and were pleased to discover that there was no indication of population declines for those select species over the past eight years as well.

Despite the overall positive news, the Protected Area Authorities warn that there's still no room for complacency, and the world’s only two remaining mountain gorilla populations are still critically endangered and vulnerable to potential rapid decline from several threats—disease, habitat loss, and the persistent danger from illegal hunting snares. The teams found a total of 380 snares set for antelopes, but with the unintended consequences of harming or killing mountain gorillas, including one discovered dead in a trap during the survey. Other rising threats include climate change and encroaching development, which also have the potential to devastate the remaining populations.

Today the mountain gorilla range states and the conservation community celebrate this positive news, which is the result of a decades-long strategic conservation effort. The census results are an overwhelmingly positive sign that this concerted effort, responsible land management, and revenue generated by well-regulated gorilla tourism are paying big dividends and have contributed to the gorillas’ remarkable comeback.