Nairobi, June 6 – The mountain gorilla population in the Virunga Mountains in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has grown from 480 in 2010 to 604 as of June 2016, according to census released on May 31 2018 by the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund.

Combined with a separate mountain gorilla population living in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda, the new figure brings the number of mountain gorillas to more than 1,000 individuals.

The numbers reconfirms the mountain gorilla’s status as the only wild ape population whose numbers are known to be increasing, and research shows the increase is due to the type of intensive daily protection provided by the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund and the park authorities of Rwanda, Uganda and DRC, according to a press release issued by the Fund.

Research has shown that the consistent increase in the mountain gorilla population is a result of the intensive daily protection provided by the national park authorities of the respective countries and conservation organisations, like the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund.

However, due to small numbers and the high level of threats, which include limited habitat, snares set for other animals, disease, and climate change, continued protection of the mountain gorilla population is crucial and must continue, according to Tara Stoinski, President and CEO/Chief Scientific Officer of the Fund.

“The success that we see in gorilla conservation is in large part due to the high level of collaboration among the different stakeholders,” says Felix Ndagijimana, the Fossey Fund’s director of Rwanda programmes and Karisoke Research Center.

The latest census represents the 9th population count of the Virunga mountain gorilla population since the early 1970s.  After more than a decade of documented decline, the Virunga mountain gorilla population reached a low of 242 individuals in 1981. The censuses conducted since that time show a consistent increase in the population to the 604 figure found today.

“The mountain gorilla census is a great example of why continued research is essential to long-term conservation efforts. These repeated counts provide critical insights into overall population trends, confirm that intensive protection efforts are working, and provide all partners with a basis for good conservation planning,” says Ndagijimana.

In addition, the fact that the gorilla population continues to grow but is confined to a very small area — the Virunga habitat is roughly 451 square kilometres — underscores the need for continued research to understand the longer-term impacts of population growth in relation to their conservation.

The news coincides with the Fossey Fund’s building of a new gorilla conservation centre in Rwanda. Named the Ellen DeGeneres Campus of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, the multi-acre, purpose-built campus will be the new home of the more than 50-year-old Karisoke Research Center, which is the hub of the Fossey Fund’s protection, research, training and community outreach programmes in Rwanda.

Mountain gorillas are still critically endangered and face threats due to their limited habitat, intense human encroachment, snares set for other animals, and potential diseases. With only about 1,000 individuals remaining, divided into two separate populations, they remain one of the world’s most-endangered animals.