Mountain Gorillas No Longer Critically Endangered
Posted on January 28th 2019
The mountain gorilla has reached a small but important milestone. The iconic species is no longer considered critically endangered and its status has officially been reclassified as endangered. This small step towards recovery is the product of intense conservation efforts. Mountain gorillas are the only species of great ape whose population is growing with all other gorilla populations remaining critically endangered. Eastern gorilla numbers for example have fallen 5 per cent this year.
The population was decimated
Mountain gorillas live in the volcanic ranges of DRC, Uganda and Rwanda at elevation of between 2,500 to 4,000 metres above seal level. The species was discovered in 1902 according to WWF and in just over a century since their existence became known of outside of Africa, their populations have fallen. It is estimated that 1,000 wild mountain gorillas exist up from just a few hundred animals in the 1980’s. Much of the population decline was down to civil unrest, violence and poaching. Habitat encroachment by humans for farmland did not help either. Some mountain gorillas were even sold as pets.
Much work needs to be done
Despite crossing the milestone, much work needs to be done for the mountain gorilla to continue on its road to recovery. The species is now inbred after its numbers fell to such low levels. This inbreeding means the gorillas are vulnerable to disease. Genetic diversity cannot be rebuilt so their situation remains perilous. Gorillas also do not reproduce quickly since gestation takes nine months for a single infant. Currently there are only two populations of mountain gorillas in the world.
Gorillas are risk from violence
One population resides in DRC’s Virunga National Park whilst the resides in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park. DRC has suffered from war an instability since independence and that kind of violence means that gorilla conservation is not high on the list of priorities as well as putting directly in harms way. Poaching is often resorted to by desperate people simply looking to survive. Presently the gorillas reside in land occupied by rebels in DRC which means conservation work is extremely dangerous.
Conservation work needs to continue
The future of the mountain gorilla depends entirely on conservation efforts continuing. Another very important factor is continued political instability. Moreover, there is risk of human diseases being transmitted to the mountain gorilla population. Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is trying to strike a delicate balance between the dangers of tourism to gorillas and the financial gains locals and conservation efforts can reap from that activity. Gorilla tourism in Rwanda is now the third highest foreign currency. If African countries can cooperate, then there is hope for the iconic species.