Threats to the survival of mountain gorillas

Habitat loss

The primary threat to mountain gorillas comes from forest clearance and degradation, as the region’s growing human population struggles to eke out a living. Conversion of land for agriculture and competition for limited natural resources such as firewood lead to varying degrees of deforestation. The only way to maintain gorilla habitat is to develop alternative economic activities that allow people to meet their daily needs, so that they see gorillas not as competitors, but as a means of improving their own situation.

Disease

Gorillas are closely related to humans, with similar anatomical and physiological features. This makes them vulnerable to many of the same diseases. Because the gorillas have not developed the necessary immunities, first time exposure to an illness or virus that is relatively innocuous to humans may devastate an entire population. Gorillas live in small groups that may never recover from a sudden fall in numbers brought on by disease. Any human contact is potentially harmful, even life-threatening.

Tourists who visit the gorillas are instructed to keep their distance, but conservationists, scientists, rangers, poachers, militia groups and local communities also pose threats. Some gorillas already suffer from common skin diseases like scabies and mange, which can quickly spread from group to group as families interact. Debris left behind in the park by refugees, poachers and the military is being cleared in order to minimize the contamination risk to wildlife, and a health education programme is helping to combat the threat of disease

Poaching

In the first two decades after their discovery, European and American scientists and trophy hunters killed over 50 mountain gorillas. To this day, poaching continues to jeopardize the gorillas’ survival. Poaching of mountain gorillas for food is extremely rare. It is now largely the result of unselective hunting with snares, which are set to catch antelope, bush pigs and other wildlife but occasionally kill or injure gorillas. In the ’60s and ’70s gorillas were poached for sale to foreigners as trophies and captive specimens. None survived in captivity. Recent events have shown that hunting of mountain gorillas in order to capture babies ‘commissioned’ by unscrupulous dealers remains a very real threat.

In 2002, poaching attempts occurred in all three countries, two of them successful. In Rwanda, two adult females in Susa Group were killed and one baby stolen. A second infant, Ubuzima, was found next to its dead mother and reintroduced to the group. In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), four gorillas from an unhabituated group were killed. A three-year old infant, Mvuyekure, believed to be part of this group, was found alive in Rwanda, but died later in captivity. Park guards thwarted two further attempts, in Rwanda and Bwindi respectively. Security throughout the parks has since been increased. In 2004 another mountain gorilla infant was confiscated from poachers by Rwanda authorities. This infant is currently under the care of the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Programme (MGVP) in Kinigi, Rwanda. In June 2007 an adult female in Kabirizi group (DRC) was shot and her two month old infant recovered. The infant is currently under the care of MGVP in Goma, DRC..

Other threats

The region’s ongoing conflict and civil unrest are an ever-present risk, while illegal mining in DRC has had a devastating effect on wildlife, including gorillas. At the same time, weak institutional management structures, a feeling of disenfranchisement among local communities, and insufficient regional collaboration all pose serious challenges

threats

Find out more about Gorillas

  • If you value the natural world, if you believe it should be conserved for its own sake as well as for humanity’s, then please lend your support.

  • — Sir David Attenborough
Latest news & posts
  • IGCP Job Advert – Conservation Scientist

    IGCP Job Advert – Conservation Scientist

    The International Gorilla Conservation Programme (IGCP) is recruiting a new staff position! Download the Conservation Scientist job advert for more details. Applications should be received by 5 PM Central Africa Time on...

    Read more
    Gorilla & community protectors in DRC receive training, equipment

    Gorilla & community protectors in DRC receive training, equipment

    Don't be alarmed. The photo above is not an emergency scene, it is a training scene. From October 3rd to 5th, 40 HuGo team members from different corners around the Mikeno sector participated in a training held in...

    Read more
    Daily info gathering by rangers feeds park planning

    Daily info gathering by rangers feeds park planning

    Data crunching. It's not very glamorous, but it is vitally important to the conservation of the critically-endangered mountain gorillas. Up-to-date, relevant and timely information is an essential prerequisite which...

    Read more
    Nose prints and mountain gorilla know-how

    Nose prints and mountain gorilla know-how

    All gorillas are just as physically and genetically different as you are from your neighbor. To know these differences helps to monitor mountain gorilla population demographic changes and health status of habituated...

    Read more
  • Back to the business of mountain gorilla monitoring

    Back to the business of mountain gorilla monitoring

    Monitoring the location and health of habituated mountain gorillas is something, under ideal circumstances, that happens every day. Unfortunately, the conditions in different parts of the Virunga Massif have been far...

    Read more
    A long and weary week

    A long and weary week

    It has been almost nine months of renewed insecurity in North Kivu Province in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which includes the area where IGCP works alongside Virunga National Park for the conservation of the...

    Read more
    Concern remains for the mountain gorillas and people of Virunga National Park, DRC

    Concern remains for the mountain gorillas and people of Virunga National Park, DRC

    The status of Virunga National Park's mountain gorillas remains unknown as rebels continue to occupy the park's gorilla sector. It has been since May that M23 rebels - also referred to as the Congolese Revolutionary...

    Read more
    Population of mountain gorillas in Bwindi determined by census

    Population of mountain gorillas in Bwindi determined by census

    A census of mountain gorillas, Gorilla beringei beringei, conducted in 2011 in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda, confirms a minimum population of 400 gorillas, raising the total world population of mountain...

    Read more