Currently there are barely 1000 mountain gorillas living in the wild. They only have one home, a network of parks crossing the borders of three countries: Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Nearly 460 gorillas currently live in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest where they have endured years of war, hunting, habitat destruction, and disease. Though mountain gorillas are not usually hunted for food, they sometimes get caught up in traps meant for smaller animals. The primary threat to these gorillas is the clearance and degradation of their mountain forest home to make way for human residences and food production.
Mountain gorillas have faced and will continue to face many additional threats. In the first two decades after Europeans and Americans became aware of mountain gorillas, over 50 of them were killed by scientists and trophy hunters. In the 1960’s and 1970’s gorillas were poached for sale to foreigners as trophies or captive specimens. Other threats include civil unrest which has turned their forests into refugee shelters and battlegrounds. Also gorillas are closely related to humans and are vulnerable to human diseases like Covid-19 plus other viruses innocuous to humans. They haven’t developed immunities to our illnesses and their populations have been partially decimated by them. In the 1980’s it was believed that only 400 gorillas were all that remained and they were added to the critically endangered species list.
The good news is gorillas came off the critically endangered species list in November of 2018! Thanks to the hard work of organizations like The International Gorilla Conservation Program, The Dian Fosse Gorilla Fund, and The World Wildlife Fund, surveys found the population had jumped to just over 1000 individuals. “Even though the rise of the mountain gorilla population is fantastic news, the species is still in danger and conservation efforts must go on,” says Liz Williamson, primate specialist for the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Aside from being fascinating creatures who share 98% of our DNA, why does gorilla conservation matter? Felix Ndagijimana of The Dian Fosse Fund weighs in, “Gorillas live in the Congo basin, in the second-largest tropical rainforest left on earth, a forest that plays a critical role in our fight against climate change. It acts as the ‘lungs of the planet,’ cleaning the air of the carbon dioxide that leads to climate change and replacing it with the clean oxygen that we need to breathe. Gorillas play an important part in keeping these lungs healthy, dispersing seeds, letting in light, and shaping plant communities within the forest.
Gorillas act as an ‘umbrella species’ for their habitat, helping to protect biodiversity on a larger scale. Their forest habitat is home to numerous other species, many themselves endangered. Protecting gorillas helps protect these other vital plants, animals and insects as well. And maintaining an intact ecosystem can limit disease spillover from animals to humans—possibly preventing the next HIV, Ebola or COVID-19.”
Despite their growing numbers, gorillas are still in a very precarious situation, yet one that we hope can be helped through conservation-oriented tourism. Conservation and sustainability-focused operators like those recommended by Wild Nectar take special care to engage local communities and hotel properties in ways that will support gorilla population growth. On these trips, all human interactions with gorillas are strictly monitored to protect them from human illnesses, plus waste and potential environmental damage is expertly managed.
In addition to being a life-changing experience, visiting Uganda on one of Wild Nectar’s gorilla safaris brings much needed wages and money for conservation to the region. The Great Uganda Gorilla Safari is offered by an operator who partners with The World Wildlife Fund and is highly respected for their practices in the region. The operator of Uganda: Gorillas & Beyond has created Bwindi Women’s Bicycle Project where bicycles are shipped from the US to a group of women who repair them and sell them locally. They also sponsor a community hospital and nursing school plus two primary schools and a glass bead making project in Bwindi.
It’s almost impossible to describe what it's like to see these extraordinary creatures in the wild, to look into intelligent eyes and feel similarities between these striking, thoughtful forest dwellers and ourselves. If you’re looking for an adventure of a lifetime, one that could also do some good in the world to protect yet another threatened linchpin species, we urge you to travel to Uganda or Rwanda on one of our unforgettable and gorilla-protecting trips.