Amid concerns that great apes are plummeting toward extinction, there is some surprising good news for East Africa’s critically endangered mountain gorillas.
Gorillas of the Virunga Mountains – of Gorillas in the Mist fame – increased in number from 480 animals in 2010 to 604 animals in 2016, according to the most recent estimate.
The National Resources Defense Council stated Monday that scattered nearby populations probably boost the overall mountain gorilla population to about 1,000 animals.
While the primates are still listed as critically endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), any increase reason is cause for jubilation.
According to the NRDC, trackers tallied only 242 mountain gorillas in 1981. Poaching and habitat loss caused by livestock grazing, farming and mining, were among the main causes of their decline.
The striking and powerful primates seemed headed toward rapid extinction, while a conservation effort slowly began to take root.
Mountain gorillas were made famous by Dian Fossey, whose 1983 book, Gorillas in the Mist, featured her work with gorillas of Rwanda and Uganda. Fossey expressed concern that the primates could become extinct by the year 2,000.
In 1985, Fossey was murdered at her camp in Rwanda. Circumstances surrounding her death remain a mystery.
In 1988, a movie of the same title, starring Sigourney Weaver as Fossey, was released, keeping the spotlight on the plight of the planet’s largest primates.
While the conservation effort has been fierce, it also has been precarious. The NRDC reports that in the past 20 years, more 170 rangers have been killed trying to protect mountain gorillas.
But thanks to those conservation efforts, gorilla numbers are slowly increasing – a phenomenon that would have made Fossey proud.
–Top image is via Wikipedia; bottom image showing Dian Fossey and a gorilla is courtesy of Liam White/Alamy