Mountain gorilla population increases by 10%

The dedication of park rangers in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo has meant that despite civil war, a population of rare mountain gorillas has increased by more than 10%.

The population of mountain gorillas in the Virunga volcanoes range – one of only two populations of the sub-species – has increased from 320 to at least 355 individuals since 1989. The gorillas’ habitat has been in the centre of the fighting and instability in the region, and it is known that about 15 of the animals have been killed as a direct result of the conflict. Conservationists are certain that military and militia movements through the forest have affected many of the gorillas, and have had a negative impact on the habitat as a whole. Thousands of civilians have also sought refuge in the Virungas, many remaining in the area for a long time, relying on hunting for bush meat and small scale farming for their survival.

“This success proves that even in a region where everyone has focussed on the conflict and crises – there is hope,” said Annette Lanjouw, Director of the International Gorilla Conservation Programme (IGCP), the organisation carrying out the monitoring of the population. “There is a future for both people and wildlife, when people work together despite political differences.”

Conservationists stress that the increase can be directly traced to the sheer dedication of field staff operating on the ground. Park rangers and trackers, many of whom have been killed or wounded while on duty in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic (DR) of Congo, have been patrolling the forest continuously throughout the years of civil unrest. This dedicated work has limited the damage to the habitat and the population of gorillas, say the conservationists. Park authorities in Rwanda, DR Congo, and Uganda, and their respective governments have never relinquished their pledge to protect this endangered and unique subspecies of gorilla.

“We must applaud the outstanding efforts of these local heroes of conservation for ensuring the survival of this charismatic species in one of the most unstable regions of Africa,” said Mark Rose, Executive Director of Fauna & Flora International, a partner in the IGCP. “We mush continue to support their efforts, to encourage further success and stability.”

Conservationists stress that the crisis in the region is not yet over, with threats to the forests, the wildlife and people of this region becoming increasingly acute, from widespread poverty, continued violence, habitat encroachment, poaching, and lack of resources for conservation.

The IGCP monitors the entire range of both populations of the mountain gorillas, with the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund also monitoring the groups in Rwanda. The IGCP is a joint initiative by the African Wildlife Foundation, Fauna & Flora International, and the World Wide Fund for Nature.

The Virunga population represents more than half the total world population of mountain gorillas. The other population lives in the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda, and numbers approximately 300 individuals.

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