The results of the census that was conducted in the spring of 2010 show that the number of Mountain Gorillas living in the tri-national forested area of which Virunga forms a part, has increased by 26.3% over the last seven years – an average growth rate of 3.7% per annum. Of the 480 Mountain Gorillas living in greater Virunga, 14 are Solitary Silverbacks, and the remaining animals live in one or other of the population’s 36 family groups. If you add together the 306 gorillas that we know to have been living in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in 2006, with those living in greater Virunga, and throw in the four orphans living in the Senkwekwe Centre, you get 790 – the global population of a critically endangered species.
That number is unreasonably high. The Mountain Gorilla as a species lives on one of human society’s most active fault lines and the years since the last census have brought spectacular violence to Uganda as well as to the DRC. So, as it seems sensible to assume that there is an inverse ratio between human chaos and gorilla survival, it is astonishing that there are 100 more gorillas living in the forests of the Virunga Mountains than there were in 2003. And the population isn’t just growing; it’s growing faster – the average annual growth of the years between 1989 and 2003 was 1.15%.
More surprising still is that 790 is somewhere between an accurate and a conservative estimate of the total number of Mountain Gorillas. Many of them are habituated which firstly makes them very countable and secondly gives us a great deal of insight into how Mountain Gorillas live. So we can confidently estimate the number of gorillas we haven’t yet seen by looking at the evidence that they leave behind – tracks and nests and so on. But none of this applies to the figure for Bwindi Forest – if you were to project the growth of the Virunga population onto that of Bwindi, then the total number of gorillas would be considerably higher.
People from three impoverished, shaky and often hostile states worked together to conduct this census just as they have worked together every day of the last seven years, sometimes in almost unimaginable conditions, to protect the Mountain Gorilla. They are responsible both for the census and for these extraordinary results.
Congratulations and thanks are due to the people who have worked on the front line to make this happen and to the Ugandan Wildlife Authority, the Institute for the Conservation of Nature in Congo and the Rwanda Development Board for supporting and guiding them. There are also several non-governmental organizations that should be mentioned here: the International Program for Gorilla Conservation (a coalition formed of the African Wildlife Foundation, the World Wide Natural Fund, and International Fauna & Flora); the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology; the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund; and the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project. Thanks also to WWF-Sweden, the Fair Play Foundation, and the General Directorate for International Co-operation in the Netherlands for their financial support. Lastly, thanks to the community of people who care about the Mountain Gorilla and who support us as we build a future for this species.