Mountain Gorillas Trending Up
Mountain gorilla populations may be on the rise, thanks to conservation efforts in central Africa, specifically in the Virunga Mountains and Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda. The mountain gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei), a subspecies of the eastern gorilla, is the second largest primate in the world. They are usually black in color, but males display a distinctive silver patch on the back. Adult males frequently stand more than six feet tall and weigh over 400 lbs. Females are about half that size. In a lifetime adults have fewer than six young. Due to the cold mountain habitat in which it thrives, the mountain gorilla is also the furriest of any gorilla. Yet, In spite of their imposing size and appearance, they forage extensively on plants and fruit.
The IUCN Red List, which tracks the status of species worldwide, presently categorizes them as critically endangered. Gorilla numbers in the area were assessed to be 380 in 2003, but in December 2010, the number had risen to 480. This increase is part of a seven year surge of mountain gorilla populations in Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Conservation efforts by The International Gorilla Conservation Programme (IGCP) are a big part of this reversal. The IGCP, currently helmed by Director Eugène Rutagarama, was formed in 1991 as a coalition of cooperative organizations. It has its origins in the work of renowned primatologist Dian Fossey. The IGCP program uses practical solutions to fight poaching and trafficking. These include better training and equipment for rangers, community outreach, international public awareness, marketing of artisan crafts, and ecotourism.
It has not been without risk. Rwanda has experienced decades of civil war, ethnic cleansing, and severe poverty. The breakdown of government control in the past has opened a door for poachers, who target adult gorillas for their body parts, and kidnap live babies for trafficking. Even so, there is cause for optimism. Ecotourism has been a particularly effective strategy that provides a more sustainable source of money and jobs for local communities than does poaching and trafficking. As a result, many people who live in the region now have a vested interest in the gorillas’ survival. More support is needed to ensure success, yet there is real promise that the trend will continue. That’s good news for the mountain gorillas.