Mountain gorilla

The total population of the mountain gorilla subspecies is about 700 individuals, split almost ... rel=
Mountain gorillas in Virunga (Uganda-Rwanda-DRC border)
© WWF / Martin HARVEY
There are fewer than 900 mountain gorillas left in world. They live exclusively in Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in two separate subpopulations:
  • The Virunga subpopulation ranges across the Virunga Massif, which is a 440km² network of protected areas across the borders of Rwanda (Volcanoes National Park), Uganda (Mgahinga National Park) and the DRC (Virunga National Park).
  • The Bwindi subpopulation is mainly restricted to the 330km² Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda.
As their name implies, mountain gorillas live in forests high in the mountains, at elevations of 2,000 to 4,000 meters. They have thicker and denser hair compared to other great apes, which helps them survive in a habitat where temperatures often drop below freezing. But as humans have moved more and more into their territory, the gorillas have been pushed farther up into the mountains for longer periods, forcing them to endure dangerous and sometimes deadly conditions.

What might have been a bleak outlook for the subspecies just a couple of decades ago has brightened in recent years due to conservation efforts. Despite ongoing civil conflict, poaching and human encroachment, both mountain gorilla populations have increased in numbers:
  • The 2010 Virunga Massif census recorded a total of 480 individuals, which represents a 26.3% increase from the previous census of 2003. The next Virunga census will be conducted in 2015
  • The 2011 Bwindi census recorded a minimum of 400 individuals, up from 302 in 2006.
    Critically Endangered
    Gorilla beringei beringei
    4 to 5 ½ feet when standing on two feet
    up to 440 lbs


1. Protracted local conflicts: waves of refugees have settled in the region around the Virunga National Park, which is home to more than half of the mountain gorilla population, leading to poaching and destruction of gorilla habitat.

2. Habitat loss: as humans have moved into areas near the habitat of mountain gorillas, they have cleared land for agriculture and livestock. Even land within protected areas is not safe from clearing—in 2004, for example, illegal settlers cleared 3,700 acres of gorilla forest in Virunga National Park.

3. Diseases: Gorillas that come into contact with humans can be vulnerable to human diseases, which gorillas experience in more severe forms.

4. Charcoal making: Inside gorilla habitat in Virunga National Park, people harvest charcoal for use as a fuel source in cooking and heating. The charcoal production —an illegal, multi-million dollar industry —has negatively impacted the gorilla habitat.

5. Poaching: there is little to no direct targeting of mountain gorillas for bushmeat or pet trade, but they can be caught and harmed by snares set for other animals.

Mountain gorilla

© © Martin Harvey / WWF © © / Andy Rouse / WWF © Rouse / WWF © © Martin HARVEY / WWF © WWF / Martin HARVEY