Mountain gorillas are located in two main areas of Africa with both areas covering some part of Uganda. Just over half of the species live in the Virunga Mountains which are a range of extinct volcanos that borders Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda. The smaller population reside in the Bwindi Impenetrable Park in Uganda. It has been a constant topic of discussion whether these the two groups are the same species or whether they are separate species.
The gorillas are found in locations that are between 8,000 and 13,000 feet in altitude and this leads to environmental conditions where temperatures can often drop to below freezing. This particular area of Africa has recently been ravaged by civil war, and along with other factors such as poaching and human encroachment has reduced the numbers of Gorilla to dangerously low numbers. In 1989 the population had dropped to 620 animals but thanks to conservation enforcement in the two areas numbers have recovered to 880 animals. These numbers do compare with the numbers of the lowland gorillas that survive today that are at around 50,000.
The mountain gorilla differs from their lowland cousins in their body shape. They are slightly shorter and stockier with longer hair. An average male weighs 430 pounds and stands at around 5 feet and are known as silverbacks. They are slightly larger than the females and have a bony conical shaped head. The mountain gorilla is an herbivore surviving on a diet of leaves shoots and stems, eating up to 75 pounds of vegetation a day. The gorilla needs dense rainforest to survive so the disappearance of this environment has been influential in the declining numbers of the animal. As humans have encroached into the forests the Gorillas have been forced to retreat and locate in more remote areas. The conditions in these remote areas are more severe and are more difficult for the gorillas to successfully survive in.
The wars in Uganda, the D.R. Congo and Rwanda has created huge problems for the gorillas. Many have died from land mines plus troops in the mountain forests have killed the gorillas to feed on when in the area. In the time of war 140 rangers have been killed as they have attempted to protect the animal. Poachers have always been a threat to the gorilla. Whole families have been killed as poachers have targeted their young to be sold as pets to buyers. The poachers also want the animal’s heads and hands for trophies. Sometime gorillas have died after being caught in traps that have been set for other animals.
The International Gorilla Conservation Programme was created in 1991 to work nationally and internationally to protect the animal. It uses law enforcement by deploying rangers in an attempt to rid the area of poachers and also provide census counts. One of the successes of the program has been to include the local population in the conservation of the areas. In Bwindi the influx of tourists brings money into the area, so a thriving gorilla population is an economic benefit to the local community. The road network has been improved in the area which as well as making it easier for the tourists to view the gorillas, it also makes it easier for the rangers to control the areas. The balance of controlled eco-tourism is essential for the future of the mountain gorilla.
Recent history has shown that the population of the mountain gorilla has made a healthy recovery. However, with the numbers at less than a thousand their futures are far less than assured. Conservation agencies need to continue to work with the local communities in order to maintain the environment where the mountain gorillas can safely survive