Mountain Gorilla Numbers Rise Despite 10 Years of War

NAIROBI, Kenya, January 25, 2001 (ENS) - Conservationists and park officials have managed to protect the Virunga population of highly endangered mountain gorillas despite the armed conflict that rages in and around their habitat - the mountains where Congo-Kinshasa meets Rwanda and Uganda.

The Virunga population represents more than half the total world population of mountain gorillas. The only other population lives in the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda.

The population of the Virunga group has increased by at least 11 percent since the last full count in 1989.

The group grew from 320 to 355 individuals, based on monitoring data from the International Gorilla Conservation Programme, a joint initiative by the African Wildlife Foundation, Fauna and Flora International and the World Wide Fund for Nature International, and the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International.


Virunga mountain gorillas Gorilla gorilla beringei, the largest primates, are vegetarians. They grow up to six feet tall and can weigh up to 425 pounds. (Photo courtesy African Wildlife Foundation)
The International Gorilla Conservation Programme monitors the entire range of the mountain gorillas, both populations. The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International monitors the research groups of gorillas in Rwanda.

Together, these data show that the population has been slowly increasing, despite the war and conflict in the region, and the enormous threats to the habitat.

"This success proves that even in a region hammered by conflict and crises, there is hope," says Annette Lanjouw, Director of the International Gorilla Conservation Programme.

"There is a future for both people and wildlife, when people work together despite political differences," agrees R. Michael Wright, president of African Wildlife Foundation.

"The increase in the mountain gorilla's population is one of the most remarkable conservation accomplishments of the last decade," says Wright.


Rwanda's Virunga Volcanos which shelter the last few hundred mountain gorillas are on the UNESCO List of World Heritage in Danger. (Photo A. Raffaele Ciriello 1998)
"The African Wildlife Foundation is proud of our role as a member of the International Gorilla Conservation Programme (IGCP) in helping to protect this Virunga Heartland. IGCP was the only conservation organization that continuously maintained operations during political and social chaos, and this extraordinary commitment has certainly demonstrated its value," Wright points out.

Civil unrest, armed conflict and genocide have plagued the Great Lakes region of Africa for the last 10 years.

The Virunga volcanoes range, the habitat of one of the two populations of mountain gorillas has been in the center of the fighting and the instability in the region. This forest, straddling the borders between Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, has been repeatedly used by various armed groups, including the infamous Interahamwe, as a transit corridor and a rear base for their military activities.