There are approximately 880 mountain gorillas on Earth, with nearly half living in the misty mountain forests of the Virunga Massif centred around 3 large dormant volcanoes and the other half living in The Bwindi Impenetrable Forests in Uganda. Both Virunga and Bwindi Impenetrable National Parks are UNESCO-designated and World Heritage Sites.
The Virunga consists of the Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda, Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda and the Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
How Do Mountain Gorillas Look Like?
The mountain gorilla has longer, thicker fur than other gorilla subspecies, enabling them to live in colder temperatures. Adult males can weigh up to 200kg, and are roughly twice the size of adult females. When they reach maturity at around 13 years old, males develop the characteristic silver fur on their back that gives them the name ‘silverback’. Just like a human thumbprint, gorillas can be identified by nose prints unique to each individual. Like all gorillas, mountain gorillas are very sociable and live in family groups led by the dominant silverback. Although strong and powerful, gorillas are generally gentle and shy with violence being very rare among stable groups. Largely herbivorous, they eat a variety of shoots, fruit and leaves.
Emerging Issues on Mountain Gorilla Conservation
In 2004, illegal settlers cleared 3700 acres of gorilla forests in Virunga.
The war in Rwanda in the early 1990s and years of civil unrest in the Democratic Republic of Congo have sent waves of refugees into the region around the Virunga Mountains parks that are home to more than half the mountain gorilla population, leading to poaching and destruction of gorilla habitat. Furthermore parts of the park inhabited by gorillas have been taken over by rebels, making survey and conservation work difficult and dangerous.
Since 1996, 140 Virunga rangers have been killed protecting the mountain gorillas.
With threats so severe, it was once thought the species might be extinct by the end of the twentieth century. But thanks to conservation efforts, The population has begun to rise despite poaching and an encroaching human population.