Mountain Gorillas: Here's Why It's Good News That They're Now Endangered
Every morning, trackers leave the Karisoke Research Center and head into the jungles of Rwanda, where mountain gorillas’ lives just got a bit easier. Their job is an extension of the work primatologist Dian Fossey began in 1967 — they monitor mountain gorillas, document the gorillas’ behavior, and make sure they are protected from the poachers who set snares to entrap them. When Fossey began her work, there were only 240 mountain gorillas left. Forty years later, after extensive, diligent work, these magnificent primates are slowly rebounding.
On Wednesday, the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund announced the official status of these gorillas has been reclassified from “Critically Endangered” — the highest level of threat — to “Endangered.” Because of intensive protection measures initiated by Fossey, who was killed for her work, the population of mountain gorillas in Rwanda has grown from 240 individuals to 604. Along with the other mountain gorillas who live in the Congo, the total number of mountain gorillas in the world is just over 1,000.
In the video above, you can see one of the gorilla families that the Fossey Fund works to protect and observe. Karisoke Research Center, which operates under the Fosse Fund, is the world’s longest-running gorilla research site. The daily protection they provide the gorillas means that mountain gorillas are some of the most protected animals on the planet — they receive more than 20 times the global average of field staff per square kilometer. This type of extreme conservation has been considered necessary for ensuring a future in which mountain gorillas are still alive.
“This is a remarkable and unique conservation success story,” Fossey Fund President and Chief Scientist Tara Stoinski, Ph.D., said Wednesday. “It is the result of decades of on-the-ground protection by hundreds of dedicated individuals, many of whom lost their lives to protect the gorillas, and a testament to the conservation efforts of the government of Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo where these gorillas live.”
The mountain gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei) is one of two subspecies of the Eastern Gorilla; the Eastern Gorilla remains Critically Endangered. Their habitat is quite small and borders on land cultivated for agriculture by a swelling human population. The International Union for Conservation of Nature notes that while it’s good news that mountain gorillas are increasing in numbers, threats to the subspecies remains high: They are in danger of poaching, neighboring civil unrest, and human-introduced diseases like respiratory infections and Ebola.
The IUCN says that continued protection of the gorillas requires preventing close contact with humans — including both tourists and the people who are set on capturing and killing the gorillas for bushmeat, traditional medicine, or the live animal trade.