Mountain Gorilla Population Booms in Africa

Mountain gorillas can thank the efforts of Gorilla Doctors and other organizations in provide hope for the endangered species.

A mountain gorilla has a bit of fun in the Virungas mountains, which are shared by Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. (Photo: David Yarrow/Getty)

Nov 27, 2012
A former Gourmet staffer, Lawrence enjoys writing about design, food, travel, and lots of other stuff.

Unless you’re a bit of a statistics enthusiast, census figures are probably not of great interest to you. But here are three simple numbers that are worth your attention.

The Aiken Standard, a daily newspaper published in Aiken, South Carolina, reports that Uganda’s mountain gorilla population has grown to 400, up by almost 100 from 2006. This brings the total number of mountain gorillas in Africa—they also live in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo—to 880.

Gorilla Doctors, a nonprofit organization dedicated to saving the lives of mountain gorillas, began working in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in 1996. “The Gorilla Doctors’ Staff Research Veterinarian, Dr. Jean Bosco Niyezi (now also a professor at the University of Makerere Veterinary School), was hired as the first field veterinarian for the organization,” Jessica Burbridge, Communications Officer for Gorilla Doctors, told TakePart. “Gorilla Doctors Uganda field team, now led by Dr. Fred Nizeyimana, regularly monitors all of the habituated gorillas in the park for health problems and performs medical interventions when an individual is determined to have a life-threatening injury or illness.”

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The Aiken Standard noted that, “Even a common cold can kill a mountain gorilla, as the species is particularly vulnerable to respiratory diseases usually associated with humans.” Mountain gorillas also have a slow rate of reproduction, which has contributed to their endangered status. The African Wildlife Foundation notes that in a 40-to-50-year lifetime, a female might have only two to six living offspring and males don’t reach sexual maturity until between 10 and 12 years. In addition, the females are only able to conceive for about three days each month and often give birth to a single infant.

Gorilla Doctors has stated that “extreme conservation” methods have contributed to the mountain gorilla’s population growth. Burbridge explained that it “entails having people there, on the ground, working to protect the gorillas. Gorilla Doctors’ veterinary intervention for wild great ape populations, as well as other organizations that have instituted daily ranger monitoring of the gorillas, have contributed to the increase in population.”

But the organization faces a number of difficulties in carrying out their work. “One of the largest challenges of working in the Democratic Republic of Congo is of course, security,” said Burbridge. “With the recent fighting between the M23 rebel group and the Congolese military, the area we work in has become more dangerous. Access to the wild Grauer’s (or eastern lowland) gorilla populations in Kahuzi Biega National Park, the wild mountain gorilla population in Virunga National Park and to the orphans at the Senkwekwe Centre has also become more difficult. Relatively speaking, Uganda and Rwanda are more stable, and we are able to carry out routine health monitoring visits for all of the habituated gorillas.”

Gorilla Doctors’ efforts are complemented by collaboration with a number of conservation groups and government authorities.

“The gorilla’s conservation success story is very much a product of the hard work of many different organizations working in the region, and especially the various parks’ efforts,” said Burbridge. “Gorilla Doctors, the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International (DFGFI), Rwanda Development Board (RDB), the Congolese Wildlife Authority (ICCN), Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), International Gorilla Conservation Programme (IGCP) are a few working in the region.”

She adds that, “Just to give you a snapshot of this, in Rwanda alone, Gorilla Doctors provides the life-saving medical care for the gorillas, the Rwanda Development Board/Volcanoes National Park and the Fossey Fund employs rangers that are in the field 365 days a year, monitoring the habituated groups, and all organizations working in the country play an important role in increasing awareness about the gorilla’s plight and educating the local and international public.”

It’s nice to see that the intense collaboration among all these different groups working together really is making a difference. It definitely provides hope that the results of the next census will provide even better news for mountain gorillas.

Were you aware that the mountain gorilla population had dipped to such a low level?

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Lawrence Karol is a writer and editor who lives with his dog, Mike. He is a former Gourmet staffer and enjoys writing about design, food, travel and lots of other stuff. @WriteEditDream | Email Lawrence |

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