Nairobi, Kenya - Despite wars, poaching, disease, and dramatic shrinking of their mountain habitat, one hundred years after their discovery, dedicated conservation initiatives have ensured that numbers of the critically endangered mountain gorilla are slowly increasing, WWF said here today.
The mountain gorilla, Gorilla beringei beringei, became known to science 100 years ago (17 October). Uncontrolled hunting, destruction of its forest habitat, and capture for the illegal pet trade, soon led to a dramatic decline in numbers and fears that the mountain gorilla would become extinct in the same century it was discovered. However, despite these dire predictions, ground-breaking work by conservation groups has seen the population growing from 620 in 1989 to approximately 674 today. Half of these gorillas are found in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and the rest in habitat shared by Mgahinga National Park in Uganda, Parc National des Volcans in Northern Rwanda, and the southern sector of Parc National des Virunga in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
“International and national efforts to protect this species have pulled the mountain gorilla back from the brink of extinction," said Dr. Annette Lanjouw, Director for the International Gorilla Conservation Programme (IGCP). "However, if we want to ensure that mountain gorillas survive another one hundred years, we must ensure that we lift the pressures that still threaten their forest home."
Habitat loss remains one of the greatest threats to mountain gorillas. More than 100,000 people live in the remote areas where mountain gorillas are found. Their need for land to cultivate has reduced the forest to virtual islands in the middle of human settlements. In order to combat this and other threats, WWF, Fauna & Flora International (FFI), and the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) set up the International Gorilla Conservation Programme (IGCP) in 1991. Over the past 10 years, the IGCP, together with local communities and park authorities in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda, have worked to protect and effectively manage the habitat and the gorilla population, while taking into account the needs of the local population.
Eco-tourism is one of the key successes of this programme. In some years, more than 10,000 tourists have visited the gorillas; IGCP helps promote gorilla-based eco-tourism and works with local guides to ensure the visitors do not adversely affect the animals. The ICGP strives to ensure that local communities benefit directly from tourist revenues and are therefore more involved in protecting the species.
"In the past century humans have hunted and captured this rare primate, bringing it to the verge of extinction. Now we must be part of the solution. Local, national, and regional solutions must take community needs and potential benefits into consideration, if we are to build a secure future for this species," said Dr. Susan Lieberman, Director of WWF's Species Programme.