A mountain gorilla is a great ape and one of two subspecies of eastern gorilla – mountain gorilla and the Grauer’s gorilla and arguably the largest of the world’s living primates.
Mountain gorillas currently inhabit the protected national parks of two distinct regions of Africa. One population of gorillas dwells in the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in south western Uganda, and the other population is spread across the three national parks in the Virunga ranges – a region covered by eight volcanoes spanning borders of Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda.
With so few individuals in the wild, only about 1000 as per 2018 gorilla census, the mountain gorilla is no longer listed as “critically endangered”, but it is still listed as “endangered”. Half of this population live in Bwindi impenetrable national park, while the rest live in the Virunga conservation area.
What is ironical though is that this massive, famed ape inhabiting East Africa’s volcanic slopes has few or no natural predators, but PEOPLE.
Not only do people threaten mountain gorillas due to habitat encroachment and poaching, but also violence, wars and mining and oil exploration activities.
Mountain gorillas have also been hunted down, for extraction of their body parts which are sold to traffickers for medicinal purposes, baby gorillas are captured and sold illegally to families as pets and private collections to zoos and sanctuaries. There are various threats that people pose to the existence of mountain gorillas.
Despite mountain gorillas’ apparent isolation in the jungles of Virunga region, most gorilla destinations and their neighborhood are still over populated, and this puts them on pressure, as increased population means increase in exploitation of natural resources, pollution, and more. Large sections of these protected areas are cut down for human settlement, setting up farmlands, firewood, mining and oil exploration in Virunga national park.
Hunting mountain gorillas for bush meat remain a big threat to their survival. This is sold mostly to big cities and regions which consider bush meat as a luxurious and exclusive meal. Hunting for bush meat is still a common practice especially in the eastern Congo, Virunga national park an area which remains a territory for various militia groups.
Mountain gorillas are also hunted down and captured as trophies and sold through illegal trade, common in Asia where some of the gorillas’ body parts are used in traditional medicine and baby gorillas are traded as pets.
Insecurity / civil wars
The eastern section of Virunga national park in the Democratic Republic of Congo has for decades been marred by wars and several pockets of rebel groups. This has resulted to over 4 million human lives lost in the last 14 years.
This insecurity and endless political havoc in the area inserts pressure on Virunga National Park, putting the already endangered mountain gorillas in the midst of this social and economic crisis.
Local people primarily depend on wildlife-based tourism and natural resources for their livelihood, and so the future of mountain gorillas is proportionate to the peace and stability within the area.
Diseases / epidemics
Because of their close relationship with human beings, mountain gorillas are susceptible to contagious illnesses spread by human beings.
Increased contact between people and mountain gorillas means increased exposure to diseases, such as flu, cough, TB, and more. Epidemics such as Ebola, influenza, cholera, etc. in eastern Congo is also a big threat to the survival of mountain gorillas.
Fortunately, despite of the many threats to the survival of mountain gorillas, they are no longer at the verge of extinction due to various conservation efforts that seem to be yielding results. As a matter of fact, they are the only gorilla species whose number has been increasing over time. There are now 1000 individuals, up from only 620 in 1989.