Mountain gorillas, which are listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, are seeing their population numbers rise. Uncontrolled hunting, disease, conflicts, and habitat loss put the species in danger, but there are encouraging signs that mountain gorillas are thriving. According to a new survey conducted by the Protected Area Authorities in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the mountain gorilla population has now risen to a total of 1,063. It’s not exactly cause for too much celebration, however, as that number is still relatively low, but it’s an improvement on a previous survey from 2008 that had the number at just 680. In 1978 the total population of mountain gorillas in Virunga Massif was at an all-time low of about 240 individuals.

A subspecies of the eastern gorilla, the mountain gorillas survive in two distinct populations. One is confined to Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, and the other is found in the Virunga Massif that stretches across the borders of Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It was in Virunga Massif that Dian Fossey established the now-famous Karisoke Research Center in the 1960s. At the time, mountain gorillas were already heading toward extinction.

Matt Walpole, senior director of conservation programs at Fauna & Flora International, said, “These survey results are undoubtedly good news, yet mountain gorillas remain threatened with extinction […] We have to remain vigilant against threats and build on the success achieved to date by ensuring resources — including from tourism — are properly directed to mountain gorillas and local communities.”

The rebounding population is largely thanks to the extreme efforts of conservationists, some of whom lost their lives to protect the gorillas and local communities in the Virunga Massif. An increasing number of veterinarians are caring for the animals in the wild, park rangers are working hard to deter poachers, and eco-tourism has benefited local economies and given communities an incentive to keep their gorillas safe.

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