Conservation efforts have paid off and there are now said to be 480 mountain gorillas that live in 36 groups in Virunga Massif, compared to 380 individuals in 2003.
Conservationists say that the increase in gorilla numbers is the result of joint "transboundary" conservation efforts in Virunga Massif, which falls in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Uganda. Organizations in these three African countries have worked hard to protect the gorillas from poaching, reduce disease and conserve their natural habitat. The International Gorilla Conservation Programme, an alliance of the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF), Fauna & Flora International (FFI) and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), works closely with the park authorities in all three central African countries.
Another factor contributing to the increase in gorilla numbers is the establishment of local economic development projects in nearby communities. These community initiatives run by the International Gorilla Conservation Programme, focus on promoting tourism, sustainable resource use and alternative means of securing livelihoods. The International Gorilla Conservation Programme (IGCP) also works to help resolve issues in the local communities and says:
"the programme aims to influence attitudes to conservation at all levels and reduce the threats facing the parks, forests and wildlife."
On their website The Ecologist reports on these community initiatives, saying that:
"Many of these communities now keep bees to make honey or make handicrafts for tourists. They don't need to poach."
The only other place where mountain gorillas are found in the wild is Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda, which is home to around 302 mountain gorillas according to a 2006 census. The total population of mountain gorillas living in the wild is therefore estimated at 780, by no means a robust figure despite the increase in numbers. Although the rise in gorilla numbers is encouraging these critically endangered apes are still incredibly vulnerable, particularly because the populations are concentrated in only two areas in the world. Conservation efforts rely heavily on gorilla trekking tourism to benefit local communities and support the National Parks. According to the IGCP:
"Gorillas and tourism are inextricably linked. Arguably, neither has a future without the other."
In the Virunga Massif area, IGCP estimates that over R20.5 million is generated directly from gorilla tourism per year, funds that are critical for managing the national parks, gorilla monitoring and patrolling to ensure their survival. It's the same case in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest where park authorities use gorilla trekking permit fees for gorilla conservation.
Not only is visiting the endangered mountain gorillas a once-in-a-lifetime experience, it also helps to ensure the survival of these giant primates!
Read the BBC article on the Increase in Gorilla Numbers online or visit the International Gorilla Conservation Programme website to find out more about mountain gorillas and conservation work being done to protect the gorillas.