Why are Mountain Gorillas Endangered? - Population & Conservation

Instructor: Lauren Posey

Lauren has taught intermediate reading in an English Language Institute, and she has her Master's degree in Linguistics.

In this lesson, we'll look at the reasons the mountain gorilla, a subspecies of eastern gorilla, is endangered. You'll also learn about its current population and ongoing conservation efforts.

Mountain Gorilla Population

A typical 747 jet can hold between 500 and 600 people. Now imagine that the entire human population could fit onto two 747s, with room to spare. That's not very many people, is it? This is the problem faced by the mountain gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei), a subspecies of eastern gorilla. There are only about 880 adults living in the wild. As a result, they are listed as critically endangered, which is only one step below 'extinct in the wild.'

These 880 individuals are split into two separate populations across Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in Central Africa. One population lives in the Virunga mountain range, and the other lives in the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.

There are about 880 mountain gorillas in the wild
Mountain gorilla

The Reasons

Habitat Loss

Some of the issues facing mountain gorillas are issues that different species face around the world. One of these is habitat loss. Despite their apparent isolation, the areas where mountain gorillas live are populated, and gorilla habitat is often cut down and replaced with farms. In addition, large sections are cut down to make room for human settlements. This even happens inside the national park, where it is illegal. Finally, refugees fleeing from Rwanda also cause habitat destruction as they cut down trees for firewood.

Hunting

Hunting is another reason mountain gorillas are endangered. Ever since their discovery in 1902, the gorillas have been hunted for food. After all, one gorilla can provide a lot of food. Unfortunately, this hunting did not stop after the gorillas became endangered. Rwandan refugees, many of whom were on the brink of starvation, would often poach, or illegally kill, mountain gorillas for food.

Gorillas are also sometimes killed for sport. The illegal exotic pet trade poses an issue as well, and mother gorillas are sometimes killed so that their babies can be captured and sold.

Baby mountain gorillas are sometimes captured for the exotic pet trade
Baby mountain gorilla

National Instability

Underlying both issues of habitat loss and hunting are the ongoing civil wars and military actions in central Africa. You saw that refugees from Rwanda (a result of these wars) are a major cause of both habitat loss and hunting. In addition, there are armed camps set up throughout the mountain gorillas' habitat. These camps make it difficult for conservationists to get into gorilla habitat and do population counts, or enforce any protective measures.

Diseases

Finally, diseases are also an issue for the mountain gorilla population. Gorillas are able to catch some diseases from humans, and increased habitat loss puts gorillas into contact with humans more and more often. Increased contact means increased risk of exposure to diseases, which can be devastating to the gorillas, who might have no natural immunity.

Conservation Efforts

Fortunately, despite all these problems, conservation efforts do seem to be working. In fact, mountain gorillas are the only gorilla species whose population is actually increasing. Their numbers have increased from 620 in 1989.

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