Virunga Mountain Gorilla Population on the Rise

A recent census data conducted in April and March of 2010 confirms mountain gorilla population is on the rise.  Gorilla beringei beringei, located in the Virunga Massif region of Africa, showed a steady annual growth rate of 3.7 percent over the past seven years.  The total number of mountain gorilla population increased by 26.3 percent from the last census in 2003. 

Virunga Massif, a region straddling three national parks in Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo is home to the majority of endangered mountain gorillas.  Diseases, injuries, and poaching brought about a major decline in the 1960s.  In the 1970s, populations stabilized and slowly increased during the 1980s.  With wars and political instability, a complete census of wild gorillas could not be conducted until 1989, which reveled only 250 individual gorillas remained.

The recent census relied on six teams comprised of 72 people systematically walking over 621 miles throughout the region.  Covering Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, Parc National des Virunga in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda, the teams collected fresh signs of mountain gorilla groups.  “In addition, fecal samples were collected and subjected to genetic analysis in order to correct for any double-counting of individuals or groups, ensuring the most accurate estimate for the population.” 

Collected data revealed 480 individual mountain gorillas in 36 groups with an additional 14 solitary silverback males.  (The data of 480 was an increase of 100 from the 2003 census.)  In 2006, 302 mountain gorillas were counted in the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and four orphaned gorillas in a Democratic Republic of Congo sanctuary.  All combined the world total population of mountain gorillas stand at 786 individuals.   

Spokesmen from several organizations agree no one effort was the primary reason for gorilla population increase.  Instead, they hailed the continuing efforts of conservation, collaboration, trans-boundary coordination, and a renewed commitment of removing mountain gorillas from the endangered species list.  Martha Robbins, a primatologist based in Leipzig, Germany at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, feels there is one key root for the gorilla increase, the International Gorilla Conservation Programme   (IGCP).  Robbins, who led the study, states that IGCP helped communities establish hand made products, allowing the community to rely on handicrafts for tourism instead of poaching.

The International Gorilla Conservation Programme formed in 1991 and is comprised of three coalition groups:  the African Wildlife Fund (AWF), Fauna & Flora International (FFI), and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).  IGCP’s mission is to “protect the afromontane forest and the many species it harbours, by ensuring that it is managed sustainably and by tackling the threats to survival.”  In 2003, IGCP helped establish local community projects focused on ensuring economical development including in the Virunga Massif region.  The International Gorilla Conservation Programme believes earth’s survival depends on humanity’s ability to sustain a healthy, balanced environment that includes all aspects of wildlife. 

            More on the International Gorilla Conservation Programme:

                 • http://www.igcp.org/about

Researchers stress, though the numbers indicate strong, positive findings, societies cannot rest on accomplishments.  Ensuring mountain gorilla conservation must remain a continuing effort.  Of the nine subspecies of African great apes, mountain gorillas are the only species experiencing a population increase.  African Great Ape Coordinator at WWF, David Greer, stated, “While we celebrate the collective achievement, we must also increase efforts to safeguard the remaining eight subspecies of great apes.”  

References:

www.afriqueavenir.org – 9 December 2010

www.guardian.co.uk – 9 December 2010

www.msnbc.com – 9 December 2010

www.igcp.org – 10 December 2010

www.fws.gov – 13 December 2010

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