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Mountain Gorillas | Facts & conservation efforts

Resor till Uganda med bergsgorillor

Mountain Gorillas – Gorilla beringei beringei

Seeing the mysterious Mountain Gorillas is a dream for many adventurous travellers and saving them is the goal for conservationists. The Mountain Gorilla is one of the great apes together with humans, chimpanzees, bonobo and orangutans. The fact that we are closely related, sharing 98% of our DNA (source), is maybe part of why we find them so fascinating.


Where do mountain gorillas live?

The home of the Mountain Gorillas is in the jungle covered mountains shared by Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. They live high in the mountains, between 2500 to 4000 m. These great apes don’t survive well in captivity, so the ones in these jungles are the only ones. All three countries where the mountain gorillas live have set up National Parks to protect their habitat. In Rwanda there is Volcanoes National Park, Uganda has Mgahinga Gorilla National Park & Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Democratic Republic of Congo has Virunga National Park.


How many Gentle giants are there?

The latest censuses made counted a total of 1063 Mountain Gorillas in the world (source). This number builds on two separate census made in Virunga mountains and Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Both of these censuses were made a few years ago so hopefully there are even more today.

In Virunga mountains the latest census was done in 2015/2016 and showed a total of 604 living in the Virunga mountains. These mountains are shared by Uganda, Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo. The census before that was done in 2010 and showed that there were 480 living in Virunga Mountains. We can happily note that the numbers are increasing.

For Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park the latest census was made in 2018. That census showed that the National Park had a total of 459 gentle giants. This was an increase from the latest estimate of 400 in 2011.

As you can see counting the Mountain Gorillas is not something that is done that often. When reading about how the census in Bwindi was conducted you realise it really is a big project. The census in Bwindi included 12 teams of trackers, veterinarians and researchers who took shifts to spend two week periods camping in the forest. They preformed the count twice during 2018 to insure reliability of the numbers. You can read more about it here.

To put some perspective on the numbers of Mountain Gorillas in the world today its worth to note that in the late 1970’s there were around 240 of them in Virunga Mountains (numbers for Bwindi Mountains were then unknown). The famous saviour of Mountain Gorillas, Diana Fossey, at the time made the statement that she feared they would be extinct by the year 2000 (source). Luckily that prediction has not turned into reality thanks to serious conservation efforts.


How old does an average Mountain Gorilla get?

Mountain Gorillas commonly become 40-yearsold (source).


What do they eat?

The diet of the gentle giants is mainly made up of plants like leaves and steams. Besides that they eat some protein too in the form of for example snails and ants (source).


Read more: WWF’s summary about Mountain Gorillas

Mountain Gorillas
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park

Conservation of mountain gorillas

Humanity has brought many species to the edge of extinction, one of them being the mysterious Mountain Gorillas. These great Apes were officially identified by scientists as late as 1902. In the coming century poaching, disease and loss of habitat sadly brought the numbers down to a level that was close to extinction.


The start with Dian Fossey

Between the 1970s and 1990s the situation of the Mountain Gorillas step by step came to the attention of the world. The scientist Dian Fossey and her work played a role in this and many who are interested in Mountain Gorillas have read the book she wrote about her work with them. Dian Fossey spent 18 years living in Rwanda where she studied the Mountain Gorillas.

In the early 1990s the International Gorilla Conservation Program was started by an alliance of international conservation organizations. Their purpose is to work with local authorities for the conservation of the Mountain Gorilla in a sustainable cooperation.


Hands-on conservation work today

Conservation projects aim to save the remaining habitats of the Mountain Gorillas and protect them from poachers. If we take Uganda as an example, UWA (Uganda Wildlife Authority) is working with patrols to catch poachers and stop land encroachment. Another step in the conservation process is to give the locals a chance to earn a sustainable living from the tourism industry.  This is so that they can benefit from saving the habitat of the great apes instead of encroaching on it. Gorilla trekking gives the locals work opportunities both with UWA as rangers and in the hospitality industry at lodges that have been established in the area to cater for Gorilla trekking tourists.


Gorilla trekking

Gorilla trekking is for many the reason why they chose to travel to our part of world. Visitors come to make the dream of meeting the Mountain Gorillas come true. In all three countries where they live groups have been habituated to humans so that it is possible to go trek them. The habituation is a long process that takes years of the rangers visiting the group every day to make them get used to humans.

During gorilla trekking a group of 8 visitors go together with a specialized guide and rangers into the jungle. They trek through the jungle to the point where the Mountain Gorillas are. The group then get to spend one hour with them. During this time with the Great Apes the visitors see them go about their day as they rest, groom each other and eat. The young once might give an amusing show as they play and the Silverback show off his impressive size.

Read more: Gorilla trekking in Uganda | 3 day gorilla trekking safari | 10 days primate safari in Uganda


Positive results of conservation

Luckily it looks like efforts to save the great apes of the misty mountains came in time and after conservation work the numbers are increasing, as you can see above. In 2018 the Mountain Gorillas were taken off the list of critically endangered animals by IUCN (source) and is now listed as endangered. With increased awareness in the communities around the National Parks the numbers will hopefully continue to increase in the coming years.


You can play a part in the conservation of Mountain Gorillas!

If your dream is to go for Mountain Gorilla trekking you will play a part in saving them. To quote WWF on the subject:

Visit gorillas. Money earned through gorilla tourism contributes significantly to the conservation of the species – providing funds for conservation projects and creating jobs and bringing other benefits to local communities living near gorillas.” – WWF’s African Great Apes Programme


Read more:
International Gorilla Conservation Program’s website, to learn more about the work with conservation of Mountain Gorillas.
Dian Fossey gorilla foundation

Mountain Gorilla
Mountain Gorilla foot
Mountain Gorilla conservation & facts
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