If you’re a movie buff, you’ll undoubtedly recall the 1988 critically acclaimed film/documentary “Gorillas in the Mist”, starring actress Sigourney Weaver as famed primatologist researcher Dian Fossey.
The film recounts Fossey’s struggle to save the critically endangered mountain gorillas. Known as the “Gorilla Girl” among the natives, Fossey was a fearless and ferocious advocate for saving these magnificent primates against extinction.
However, on December 27th, 1985, Fossey was found dead in her isolated cabin at the Mt. Visoke research site, murdered by a machete blow to the head. Her assailant was never actually identified, although rumors persisted that it may have been one of her workers.
Although Fossey didn’t live long enough to see her life’s work come to fruition, her notoriety and subsequent murder drew worldwide condemnation, along with notice from government officials in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Republic of Rwanda, and the Republic of Uganda. They recommitted their efforts in criminally prosecuting poaching, along with protecting conservation efforts in the transboundary Virunga Massif, one of the two remaining areas where the great ape is still found.
According to data released on May 31st, 2018, the numbers of endangered mountain gorillas have gone up, surpassing the 1,000 mark.
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Survey results reveal that numbers have increased to 604 from an estimated 480 in 2010, including 41 social groups and 14 solitary males in the transboundary area. When combined with published figures from Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (where the rest of the sub-species is found), this brings the global wild population of mountain gorillas to an estimated 1,004, and makes these gorillas the only great ape in the world that is considered to be increasing in population.
BREAKING – the mountain gorilla is no longer listed as Critically Endangered! Thanks to conservation efforts, numbers are believed to be on the rise, and now exceed 1,000. We still have a long way to go, but this is a huge leap in the right direction. 🦍 @IGCP @IUCNRedList pic.twitter.com/rDwQGmHd7J— WWF UK (@wwf_uk) November 14, 2018
Despite this good news, the survey found that direct threats from wire or rope snares persist. During the surveys, the teams found and destroyed more than 380 snares set for antelope, but are also able to kill or harm gorillas. Along with continued civil unrest, tribal conflicts within the region presents an ongoing risk to gorillas and other wildlife.
Margaret Kinnaird, Wildlife Practice Leader for the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), acknowledged the concerted efforts by conservation groups, wildlife advocates, and African government officials.
Kinnaird stated; “This is fabulous news for mountain gorillas and shows what we can do for wildlife when NGOs, governments and their communities work together. However, the high number of snares encountered and the numerous other threats they face including climate change indicate that the battle is far from won. The three gorilla range countries and their partners must continue to work together to safeguard the Virunga Massif – not only for the protection of these incredible creatures but also for the welfare of the local people with whom they share the landscape. The mountain gorilla story can be a model for how to restore and maintain our earth’s precious biodiversity.”
The data was gathered by twelve teams, comprised from more than 10 institutions, who systematically searched the mountain gorilla habitat which covered over 2,000 km of difficult, forested terrain for signs of the animals. These groups examined and recorded nest sites, and collected feces samples for genetic analysis. The teams also looked for evidence of threats to gorillas and other wildlife.
Unfortunately, the threat to this shy primate isn’t only confined to illegal poaching or encroachment on their natural habitat. Human interaction can also decimate their population. These creatures have no natural immunity against the spread of human diseases, meaning something as small as the common cold can prove deadly.
We look forward to seeing the mountain gorilla population continue to increase over time.