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Recent Findings on Mountain Gorillas Show Hope for Species' Survival - WWF

After a decade of conservation efforts, the mountain gorillas in Eastern Africa are showing a slow but steady comeback, according to WWF, the global conservation organization.

Results of a survey released today indicate that there are now 340 gorillas within the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in south-western Uganda, a 12 percent growth over the past decade. Although this translates to an annual growth rate of about 1 percent, it is indicative of a healthy and well protected population. The park is home to almost half of the world’s remaining mountain gorillas.

“This is indeed great news for the survival of the mountain gorilla,” said Marc Languy of WWF’s Eastern Africa Regional Program. “However, with only about 720 individual mountain gorillas surviving in the wild, more efforts are still needed to ensure these beautiful animals do not become extinct.”

WWF notes that both the eastern and northern sections of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park have had high levels of human disturbance in the past, such as hunting, habitat encroachment and civil unrest in the region.

Earlier this year, the killing of two solitary silverback gorillas in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) -- with clear evidence that one was killed for its meat -- has raised fears for the survival of the small mountain gorilla population in the Virunga National Park. The animals belonged to groups habituated for tourism. According to WWF, habituated gorillas are easy targets because they don’t fear the presence of humans. As a result, additional gorillas may be in danger.

The survey in Bwindi was conducted by several conservation organizations, including WWF. To avoid double-counting, genetic analysis of fecal samples of the gorillas in each group was used.

“The Bwindi census, which shows a continuing growth in the mountain gorilla population, comes after a similar trend was found in 2003 in the Virunga Massif,” said Eugene Rutagarama, of International Gorilla Conservation Program. “This shows how joint conservation efforts between the Uganda Wildlife Authority, park authorities in Rwanda and the DRC, and conservation organizations can pay off, despite recurrent security threats in the region.”

Mountain gorillas are the main tourist attraction in the DRC, Rwanda and Uganda, bringing in about $5 million every year. Of the 30 gorilla groups found in Bwindi, five are habituated -- a total of 76 individual gorillas. The Uganda Wildlife Authority is planning to habituate two more groups as part of efforts to boost tourism.

Notes to editors:

*        A subspecies of the eastern gorilla, the mountain gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei) became known to science on October 17,1902. Uncontrolled hunting, destruction of its forest habitat, and capture for the illegal pet trade has led to a dramatic decline in gorilla numbers. As a result, the species was threatened with extinction in the same century it was discovered.

*        Despite these predictions, ground-breaking work by conservation groups has seen the population grow from 624 in 1989 to approximately 720 today. They are found in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, as well as the Virunga Mountains, a habitat shared by Mgahinga National Park in Uganda, Volcanoes National Park in northern Rwanda, and the southern sector of Virunga National Park in the DRC.

*        The Bwindi census was supported by several organizations, including the Institute of Tropical Forest Conservation, Wildlife Conservation Society, Uganda Wildlife Authority, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, International Gorilla Conservation Program, USAID through the PRIME West Project, The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Berggorilla und Regenwald Direkthilfe, and WWF.

*        The goal of the International Gorilla Conservation Program (IGCP), a partnership of three international organizations -- African Wildlife Foundation, Fauna & Flora International and WWF -- is to ensure the conservation of mountain gorillas and their forest habitat in Rwanda, Uganda and the DRC. IGCP works with the protected area authorities of the three countries where mountain gorillas occur.

*        WWF's African Great Apes Program addresses the greatest threats to great ape conservation: bushmeat hunting, habitat destruction and fragmentation, the live ape trade and disease outbreak and transmission through field initiatives in partnership with range states governments and their relevant natural resource management authorities, local communities living with great apes, local, national and international non-governmental organizations and research institutions.