A comprehensive census of the Critically Endangered mountain gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei) began yesterday in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, under the coordination of Ugandan wildlife officials and staff from international conservation organisations.
The survey is being part-funded by WWF-Sweden. As well as the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, the census may also include parts of the neighbouring Sarambwe Nature Reserve in the Democratic Republic of the Congo if the security situation remains stable enough.
The IUCN estimated that in 2006, a total of 680 mountain gorillas remained in just two isolated populations. One population is located in the Virunga region of the mountainous forest borders of Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Uganda, while the second occurs in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in south-western Uganda.
WWF report that the most recent estimate of the mountain gorilla population stands at 786 wild individuals.
Populations slowly growing
According to WWF, mountain gorilla populations are slowly growing thanks to the efforts of conservationists. A number of measures, such as anti-poaching patrols, habituation projects and veterinary monitoring, have been vital in helping to protect and increase the highly vulnerable populations of this species.
However, despite the best efforts of these organisations, a series of threats – including illegal poaching, capture of gorillas, increasing human-gorilla conflict and habitat destruction – continue to threaten the magnificent mountain gorilla.
“With fewer than 800 mountain gorillas left, it is essential that every individual be protected from harm,” says David Greer, WWF’s African Great Apes Programme Coordinator.
“Through our partner the International Gorilla Conservation Programme, we are working closely with rangers and law enforcement investigators to ensure that when a wildlife crime does occur, evidence is handled properly so prosecutors can make a strong case in court.”
Each mountain gorilla living in the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is estimated to generate around $1 million per year in tourist revenue for the Ugandan economy.
The Ugandan government recognises the value that the mountain gorillas bring to the country, and punishments for wildlife crimes tend to be stricter than in the other neighbouring countries.
According to WWF, the results of the current census are expected to be released in nine months time.
This allows time for scientists to carry out genetic analysis of faecal samples, which are being collected to reduce the possibility that individuals have been double-counted.
Find out more about the Eastern gorilla on ARKive
Read the full WWF Press Release
Helen Roddis, ARKive Species Text Author