Good news for mountain gorillas: the number of the critically endangered apes residing in the Virunga Massif is up to 604 from 480 in 2010, according to a statement from the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International. In fact, the World Wildlife Fund said (WWF) the mountain gorilla is “the only great ape in the world that is considered to be increasing in population.”

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Mountain gorilla holds green leaves

In 1981, just 242 mountain gorillas lived in the Virunga Massif, a transboundary area spanning Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Several population counts later, though, the numbers are far more encouraging. There are now over 1,000 mountain gorillas in the world when the Virunga population is added to a separate one in Uganda. The population count comes from a recent census coordinated by the Greater Virunga Transboundary Collaboration and in which the Fossey Fund’s Karisoke Research Center participated. The International Gorilla Conservation Program, a coalition program that includes WWF among its partners, backed the census.

Mountain gorilla census conducted by Rwanda trackers

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60 people took part in the census, walking through the gorillas’ range in two sweeps approximately three months apart. Researchers gathered information like hair and dung samples from night nets to work towards a population count and identify individual gorillas.

Work on the recent mountain gorilla census

Work on the recent mountain gorilla census

The mountain gorilla population increase is due to daily protection, according to the Fossey Fund. But the fight isn’t over yet; the great apes are threatened by disease, snares laid for other animals, limited habitat, and climate change. Conservationists called for continued protection.

Mountain gorilla baby named Macibiri

“Dian Fossey thought mountain gorillas would go extinct by the year 2000,” Fossey Fund CEO Tara Stoinski said. “Their survival and continued increase clearly shows that intensive conservation efforts can work. The take home from the mountain gorilla story is that significant financial and time investment is needed for conservation to happen — there are no overnight fixes. We must be in it for the long haul and increase the resources available for conservation if we want charismatic species like gorillas, rhinos, elephants, and tigers to survive.”

+ Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International

+ World Wildlife Fund

Images courtesy of Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International