According to a recent census, the number of mountain gorillas is on the rise! Between 2010 and June 2016, the population of mountain gorillas in Africa grew from 480 to 604. There are likely several hundred more living in scattered habitats to the south, leading conservationists to estimate that there are now more than 1,000 mountain gorillas. The subspecies of the great ape is the only one experiencing a revival in population.

1,000 gorillas may not seem like a lot, but consider this: during the 1960s, mountain gorilla numbers were plummeting. This is when conservationist Dian Fossey began to dedicate her life to the study and preservation of the apes. onEarth reports: “While she was working tirelessly to habituate the apes to her presence, livestock grazers were driving their herds ever farther into gorilla habitat. Humans were also clearing forests for charcoal and agriculture and setting snares to catch antelope and buffalo — snares that would also doom any great apes they inadvertently snagged. Meanwhile, poachers were increasingly targeting gorillas and their young for meat, trophies, and even the exotic pet trade.” Fossey eventually published her work in the book Gorillas in the Mist.

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By 1981, just 242 mountain gorillas were counted. After the disappointing census, Fossey said she didn’t expect the subspecies to survive much longer. Unfortunately, it was Fossey who didn’t make it to the turn of the millennium. Shortly before her 54th birthday, she was murdered in a Rwandan camp. Theories about the conservationist’s death are varied and have never been fully resolved. Fortunately, her work has carried on and continues to inspire conservationists — especially those who are intent on protecting mountain gorillas.

Threats to the Mountain Gorilla and How You Can Help

Mountain gorilla numbers are on the rise, but the species is still considered to be endangered. The most common threats follow:

1. Habitat Loss

According to the International Gorilla Conservation Programme, the greatest threat to the mountain gorillas is habitat loss through forest clearance and degradation. The growing demand for land to grow crops and competition for natural resources (such as firewood) are also impacting their numbers. 

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How You Can Help:

In order for this threat to be resolved, humans need to develop then implement sustainable technologies that are capable of meeting the growing population’s need without encroaching upon the mountain gorilla habitats. In your personal life, strive to live as sustainably as possible. Raise awareness about the great ape’s plight, and encourage others to invest in renewable energy and eco-friendly technologies.


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2. Disease

Gorillas are the closest relative to humans after chimpanzees and bonobos. Because they are so similar to us, they are also at risk of contracting many of the same diseases. Without the necessary immunities, the first-time exposure to an illness or virus that is dangerous to humans may wipe out an entire population of mountain gorillas. Because the gorillas live in small numbers, their groups may never recover. Conservationists, scientists, rangers, poachers, militia groups, and local communities also pose threats to mountain gorillas. Scabies, mange, and respiratory disease have been documented in some gorillas. Afflictions have also been found to spread quickly from group to group as families interact.

How You Can Help:

To prevent gorillas from succumbing to disease, tourists are instructed to maintain a distance of at least seven meters when visiting the apes in their natural environment. Rubbish that is left behind in national parks also needs to be cleaned up immediately; whether it’s from refugees, poachers, or the military, it does not belong in mountain gorilla habitats and needs to be cleared out. You can help by educating others on how to combat the threat of disease.

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3. Poaching

Poaching remains a serious threat to the gorilla’s survival. Rarely are they ensured for food; instead, they tend to be caught in snares intended for antelope, bush pigs, or other wildlife. In the 1960s and 1970s, mountain gorillas were also poached for sale to foreigners as trophies or specimens for zoos. Nowadays, baby gorillas are “commissioned” by shady dealers, further threatening their numbers. The most recent case occurred in 2013. An infant was recovered outside of Virunga National Park then abandoned in a field with clear signs of being held captive. The infant, named Matabishi, was determined to be a mountain gorilla. After being rescued, the gorilla infant joined three other rescued mountain gorillas from a poaching in 2007 at the Senkwenkwe facility in Rumangabo.

How You Can Help:

The best way to eliminate poaching is to raise awareness about the issue. Educate others in your local area about the species’ plight. Then, take action by raising funds for an established charity. You can also make a difference by inspiring others to act on behalf of the critically-endangered species.

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Learn more about how you can help mountain gorillas by reading the following articles:

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