Breaking News: Mountain Gorillas Population in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park shoots up to 400 (2011 Census Results Release)

The long awaited mountain gorillas’ census results have just been released by Uganda  Minister of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities at the Media Center putting the total population of mountain gorillas in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park to 400. This brings the World’s population to 880, the 480 being shared by Uganda (Mgahinga Gorilla National Park), Rwanda (Volcanoes National Park) and DRC (Virunga National Park).

the total population of mountain gorillas in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park to 400. This brings the World's population to 880
Members of Oruzogo family (Bwindi)

Mountain gorillas live in social groups and the census results indicate that the 400 mountain gorillas in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park form 36 distinct social groups and 16 solitary males. Ten of these social groups are habituated to human presence for either tourism or research and included, at the time of the census, 168 mountain gorillas or 42% of the Bwindi population.
While it was initially planned to include Sarambwe Nature Reserve in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a protected area continuous with Bwindi and therefore potential habitat for the Bwindi population of mountain gorillas, it was not possible to do so due to insecurity in the Sarambwe area at the time of the census.

Measuring Mountain Gorilla dung during the census
Measuring Mountain Gorilla dung
during the census in  September 2012

The Method Used for the Mountain Gorilla Census
However, this time round the counting didn’t involve actual encounters with the animals. Rather, the enumerators meticulously counted the nests in which individual gorillas rest by night, trailing their footprints and analyzing their excreta— collected from the nests— in the laboratory to eliminate double-counting. The counting teams , were not even following after gorilla trails, but instead walked transect lines to cover the whole forest… a tough exercise! After locating the gorilla track , the census team would then follow in their footsteps till the site is found where the gorillas spent the night before (one or more beds of vegetation called “nests”). They would then search for all the nests in the vicinity (gorillas usually make individual nests for the night. Mothers will share with infants/juveniles). From there they looked out for any dung/ droppings in the nests. A lot of information came from the dung found at the nests. The dung mold would be measured and sampled for later analysis (genetics, parasites, pathogens, etc.). On the way back, the recording of other observations were take, like illegal activities practised. Locations for all these observations were obtained by GPS.

Collecting mountain gorilla dung samples for the census
Collecting mountain gorilla dung samples for the census

The last (2006) Bwindi census counted 300 gorillas. Of course everyone was very eager to know if numbers are stable or even increasing. (The 2010 census of the Virunga gorillas yielded 480 individuals, some 100 more than in their census 5 years earlier — a rare good news story! )That means there are now 880 mountain gorillas confirmed in the wild. 
Mountain gorillas have been the flagship tourism activity for Uganda in the last few years. The Uganda Wildlife Authority is in fact overwhelmed by applications for gorilla tracking permits. It is therefore vital to know how many gorillas there are in order to be able to effectively conserve and market them.
In 2009, Uganda earned up to 225 million US dollars from gorilla tourism, accounting for 37 percent of the country’s total tourism earnings. The tourism activity has also become a major employer for Ugandans, with about 5,000 people involved in tours and travel in the Bwindi and Mgahinga areas.

The census was conducted in September 2011 by a corroboration of  many regional partners: the Uganda Wildlife Authority, the Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature, the Rwanda Development Board, local governments and the International Gorilla Conservation Programme, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Conservation Through Public Health, the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project, the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund – International and us, the Institute for Tropical Forest Conservation. Funding to support our (pre-)census contribution comes from the Wildlife Conservation Society. Main support for the census comes from the World Wide Fund for Nature-Sweden via the International Gorilla Conservation Programme, with supplemental support coming from Berggorilla & Regenwald Direkthilfe.
If you have any questions about the mountain gorillas census or visiting/ trekking gorillas in Uganda and Rwanda, feel free to ask and we can try to answer them! Otherwise, we shall as usual keep you posted.

Ivan W.

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