The number of mountain gorillas at a crucial site in Central Africa has grown by more than 25 percent since 2003, reflecting a significant recovery for the highly endangered species, researchers reported in a new census this week.
The count brings to 480 the number of mountain gorillas known to inhabit the Virunga Massif, a roughly 180-square-mile area that covers territory from national parks in Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Thirty years ago, just 250 mountain gorillas were counted in the region, and the species was believed to be in imminent danger of extinction.
A 2006 census found 302 mountain gorillas in nearby Bwindi National Park, and four orphaned gorillas live in a sanctuary in Congo, bringing the total known world population to 786.
Augustin Basabose, coordinator of species at the International Gorilla Conservation Program, called the growth in gorilla numbers in Virunga “absolutely remarkable.”
“This recovery is due to the relentless collaborative efforts of many organizations and institutions in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Uganda,” Dr. Basabose said in a statement accompanying the study.
In the years since the last census, the population has grown 3.7 percent annually, despite the documented killing of nine gorillas in that period.
Researchers and conservationists said the steady recovery of the species was heartening but called for maintained vigilance against threats, which include accidental snaring by local hunters.
“Collectively, we cannot let down our guard on the conservation of these incredible animals,” Eugene Rutagarama, director of the International Gorilla Conservation Program, said in a statement. “While mountain gorillas are physically strong, they are also incredibly vulnerable.”
Increased patrols by better-equipped antipoaching officers have been a key driver in curbing poaching, yet programs to promote local economic development have also aided protection efforts, scientists said.
“Many of these communities now keep bees to make honey or make handicrafts for tourists — they don’t need to poach,” Martha Robbins, a primatologist with the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, told the BBC.