Map showing location and size of gorilla groups in the Virungas.The population of critically endangered mountain gorillas living in Africa’s Virunga Massif has grown by 26.3%  to approximately 480 individuals in the past seven years according to the newly released results of the 2010 mountain gorilla census. The last mountain gorilla census of the Virunga region in 2003 estimated a total of 380 animals. The Virunga Massif encompasses national parks in Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Some 302 additional mountain gorillas live in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, which was not included in this year’s census.

Cenus team looking for signs of mountain gorillas in Volcanoes National Park.

“These amazing results show how the team work of three countries and multiple NGOs collaborating on mountain gorilla conservation has been truly effective,” says Dr. Mike Cranfield, Director of the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project (MGVP). “Not only is the census news great, it’s also a measure of the success of the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project’s ability to save gorilla lives in field as well as the dedicated efforts of other organizations and the national park authorities.”

The Gorilla Doctors perform an intervention on Mukunda in DRC.MGVP’s international team of veterinarians, the Gorilla Doctors, is the only group providing wild mountain gorillas with direct, hands-on care. The Gorilla Doctors regularly monitor the health of habituated gorilla groups in Rwanda, Uganda, and DRC to ensure the early detection of disease and injury. When gorillas suffer from human-induced or life-threatening trauma or disease, the Gorilla Doctors stage medical interventions to save their lives. These interventions are aided by trackers and guides from the national park authorities, or by staff members from research organizations studying the gorillas.

While circumstances vary for each case, generally gorillas suffering from infectious disease are darted with antibiotics and injured animals are anesthetized and treated in the forest. In 2010, the Gorilla Doctors intervened to help gorillas in all three countries, including darting gorillas suffering from respiratory disease with antibiotics, freeing and treating individuals with limbs caught in poachers’ snares, and twice anesthetizing and relocating the silverback Mukunda from villages to his home in Virunga National Park. A video of a recent MGVP gorilla intervention can be found here:

The Virunga Massif mountain gorilla census was conducted by the protected area authorities in three countries: L’Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature, the Rwanda Development Board, and the Uganda Wildlife Authority. The census was supported by the International Gorilla Conservation Programme (a coalition of the African Wildlife Foundation, World Wide Fund for Nature, and Fauna & Flora International), the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International, and the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project. The census was funded by WWF-Sweden, Fair Play Foundation, and the Netherlands Directorate General for International Cooperation (DGIS) through the Greater Virunga Transboundary Collaboration. 

Cenus team members in the field.During the census, six teams comprised of 72 people from DRC, Rwanda, and Uganda systematically walked over 1,000 km throughout the entire range and meticulously documented fresh signs of mountain gorilla groups. Genetic analysis of fecal samples collected during the census have identified and corrected for any double-counting of individuals or groups, ensuring the most accurate estimate for the population. Fecal samples were also collected for a comprehensive health screen of the population. Further details and results of the health screen, population structure, genetic composition, mountain gorilla distribution, population dynamics, and human disturbance will be available when the full report is complete in 2011.

About Mountain Gorillas

With only about 790 individuals left in the world, mountain gorillas are a critically endangered species. Mountain gorillas live in central Africa, with about half of the population living in the 447 sq km Virunga Volcanoes Massif, which combines Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, Virunga National Park in DRC and Mgahinga National Park in Uganda. The other half lives within the boundaries of the 331 sq km Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda. The developed land surrounding these national parks is some of the most densely populated in Africa. As a result of intense human activity near and inside the parks, gorillas face numerous threats including poaching and habitat loss. Because gorillas share 98.5% of their genes with humans, their greatest health threat may come from infectious human-borne diseases.

About the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project (MGVP)

MGVP is dedicated to saving mountain gorilla lives. We believe it is critical to ensure the health and well being of every individual possible. Our international team of veterinarians, the Gorilla Doctors, is the only group providing wild mountain gorillas with direct, hands-on care. MGVP partners with the UC Davis Wildlife Health Center ( to advance One Health strategies for mountain gorilla conservation. Research has proven that by intervening to save sick and injured gorillas, the Gorilla Doctors have helped the overall mountain gorilla population to increase.,