How Many Mountain Gorillas are in Uganda? /Total Population of Mountain Gorillas

In the recently released results by the Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities together with the Greater Virunga Transboundary Collaboration of the 2018 December Bwindi population census revealed that the number of mountain gorillas and gorilla families has increased. Mountain Gorilla Numbers in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park increased from 400 in 2011 to 459 in 2018 which brings the global world population to 1,063 individuals.

On the 16th of December 2019, the outgoing Minister of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities, Prof. Ephraim Kamuntu confirmed that as per the December 2018 census in Bwindi Forest National Park, the park holds a record 459 mountain gorillas a total counted from among 50 gorilla groups. On the 459 mountain gorillas in Bwindi are also a total of 13 solitary individuals.

Prof. Ephraim Kamuntu also added that the Bwindi mountain gorilla population of 459 individuals added to that of her sister park Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, Uganda continues to retain her position as the home to the highest population of the world’s Mountain gorillas with 51% of the total.

This isn’t just about the number but also a greater boost to the Uganda gorilla safari and East African tourism industry. With this census release of 459 mountain gorillas combined with the 2016 census in the Virunga massif that confirmed about 604 mountain gorillas in Uganda’s Mgahinga, DR Congo’s Virunga, and Rwanda’s Volcanoes parks, the global total population of mountain gorillas now stands at 1,063 individuals. This is a great success story for these elusive giants.

Mountain Gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei) in Bwindi according to the latest census as of December 2018 have increased to 459 individuals from 400 in the last census. The total gorilla groups in Bwindi forest were also revealed to have increased from 36 families in 2011 to 50 groups in 2018. The increase in the gorilla groups keeps Uganda ahead of the Virunga massif which has 41 gorilla families according to their latest census.

This very successful mountain gorilla population survey was conducted by the Protected Area Authorities of Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). These authorities are the Uganda Wildlife Authority and L’Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature for Uganda and Congo respectively.  The joint survey was conducted under the framework of the Greater Virunga Transboundary Collaboration. The survey was also supported by the Rwanda Development Board, International Gorilla Conservation Programme, Mammalian Ecology and Conservation Unit of the UC Davis Veterinary Genetics Laboratory, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Institute of Tropical Forest Conservation, Gorilla Doctors, Conservation Through Public Health, Wildlife Conservation Society Uganda Country Office, WWF Uganda Country Office and Bwindi Mgahinga Conservation Trust. The Bwindi gorilla census of 2018 was funded by World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Fauna & Flora International, and Partners in Conservation at the Columbus Zoo & Aquarium.

However, to note is that the survey wasn’t only conducted in Bwindi Forest but it also included the Sarambwe Nature Reserve of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The joint press statement released by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Fauna & Flora International, International Gorilla Conservation Programme, and Conservation International revealed that this was the first-ever gorilla census to include Sarambwe Nature Reserve.

As part of the joint statement was a part which that portrays lots of success in the conservation efforts and it stated as follows;

“slowly but surely a solid future for mountain gorillas is emerging proving that long term collaborative  conservation efforts can pull species back from the brink of extinction”

Surely a successful conservation story, in 2018, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) reclassified the mountain gorilla species from Critically Endangered to Endangered. This is a step away from extinction.

How the survey for the Bwindi Mountain Gorilla population was conducted

Once at the brink of extinction, mountain gorillas are steadily increasing in number thanks to the collaborative efforts from the Greater Virunga Transboundary Collaboration, nonprofit Organizations, and conservationists. To know the total population of Mountain gorillas in the world, a census has to be done and the latest one being the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Sarambwe Reserve in Uganda and Congo respectively. The survey revealed 459 mountain gorillas deriving to a total of 1,063 individuals as of the December 2018 survey.

Bwindi Mountain Gorilla
Bwindi Mountain Gorilla

To carry out a gorilla census it takes an intensive effort of the on-the-ground conservation efforts by dedicated trackers, researchers, and other team members and cooperatives from the three countries. Dr. Tara Stoinski, President, CEO and Chief Scientific Officer of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund that assisted in the census stated that,

“It takes hard work by community members, government leaders, and conservationists- but it can be done”

As a dedicated team tries to revive a situation that was at one point almost hopeless, survey teams walked pre-determined reconnaissance trails covering all areas of the forest in search of gorillas and other mammals as well as any sign of human activity.  Members who participated in the survey including researchers, trackers, veterinarians, and others underwent intensive 5 days of training that involved practical and theoretical lessons, learning how to use handheld electronic devices for more accurate data entry. The members conducting the survey divided into 12 teams with six in the forest at a time. From 12 teams, they further divided into three groups each group camping into different parts of the forest for two weeks at a time.

The teams collected fecal samples for genetic analysis and nest sites. This vigorous process was done and completed by the survey teams twice, in March to May 2018 and October to December 2018, this was done to ensure no gorilla went undetected.  Repeating the survey was just the way to get proof for the first results and ensure they are the right results of the mountain gorillas.

Ever since 2011, there hasn’t been any decline in the mountain gorilla population. However, threats like disease, climate change, and habitat loss combined with an overall small population still put the survival of mountain gorillas at risk. We celebrate the increase of the mountain gorillas; however, mountain gorillas are still a conservation dependent species, and therefore much more collaborative efforts are welcome for this conservation effort.

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