Mountain gorilla numbers are heading in the right direction

December 17, 2019, 2:03 p.m.
Silverback mountain gorilla, Uganda.
Photo: Skyler Bishop/Gorilla Doctors

There's good news for mountain gorillas as a new survey finds that the great ape population is growing.

The total world population of endangered mountain gorillas is now 1,063, according to the Uganda Wildlife Authority.

The survey results are for Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda and Sarambwe Reserve in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The 2018 survey found at least 459 mountain gorillas in these regions, an increase from an estimated 400 mountain gorillas in 2011, according to a press release from the University of California, Davis.

A survey completed in 2015-2016 found 604 mountain gorillas in Virunga Massif in the Congo. Combined with the newest survey, the number is now an encouraging 1,063.

"Mountain gorillas are the only great ape in the wild whose numbers are increasing, but their total population number is small so we must remain vigilant," said Kirsten Gilardi, Gorilla Doctors' executive director, chief veterinary officer and co-director of the Karen C. Drayer Wildlife Health Center at the University of California, Davis.

"Given ongoing risks to mountain gorillas such as habitat encroachment, potential disease transmission, poaching and civil unrest, this increase should serve as both a celebration and a clarion call to all government, NGO and institutional partners to continue to collaborate in our work to ensure the survival of mountain gorillas."

An infant mountain gorilla in the Katwe group in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda An infant mountain gorilla in the Katwe group in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda (Photo: Gorilla Doctors)

In 2018, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) changed the status of mountain gorillas from "critically endangered" — the highest level of threat — to "endangered." Their numbers, at the time, had reached 1,000.

Dr. Tara Stoinski, president and CEO/chief scientist of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, was on the IUCN primate team that recommended the status change.

"It's a fragile success," she told MNN at the time of the reclassification. "The fact that they're moving in this direction is very positive, but there are still only 1,000 animals left, which means their status could change very quickly."

Ongoing threats include limited habitat, disease, climate change and human pressure. "They remain a conservation-dependent species and must be continually protected," Stoinski said. "Any one of these threats could change their status very quickly."