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why are they threatened?

  • Critically Endangered
  • Small Population
  • Habitat Destruction
  • Enemies
  • Disease
  • War

The mountain gorilla is a critically endangered species. It faces an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild due to its very small population level, extremely small habitat that is being deforested, poaching, human disease, and war. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is based in Switzerland and produces a Red List of Threatened Species. Animals must meet very specific criteria in order to be placed in one of the categories below:

  • EXTINCT (EX) An animal is Extinct when the last individual has died.

  • EXTINCT IN THE WILD (EW) An animal is Extinct in the Wild when it is known only to survive in captivity or as a population outside of its natural habitat.

  • CRITICALLY ENDANGERED (CR) An animal is Critically Endangered when it is considered to be facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild.

  • ENDANGERED (EN) An animal is Endangered when it is considered to be facing a very high risk of extinction in the wild.

  • VULNERABLE (VU) An animal is Vulnerable when it is considered to be facing a high risk of extinction in the wild.

  • NEAR THREATENED (NT) An animal is Near Threatened when it does not qualify for Critically Endangered, Endangered or Vulnerable now, but is close to qualifying for or is likely to qualify for a threatened category in the near future.

  • LEAST CONCERN (LC) An animal is Least Concern when it has been evaluated against the criteria and does not qualify for Critically Endangered, Endangered, Vulnerable or Near Threatened.
why listed cr?

There are only an estimated 720 mountain gorillas living in the wild. Because of this low number, combined with the fact that it is split into 2 isolated populations, scientists have concerns about inbreeding. Continued inbreeding through many generations reduces the chances for diversity of characteristics in the offspring, reduces fertility, and increases the chance for birth defects.

The most serious threat to mountain gorillas is habitat loss. They live in an area that has one of the highest densities of rural human populations in Africa. It also has rich volcanic soil, which has led to large areas of the forest being cleared for farms.population density This practice has mostly been stopped in Uganda and Rwanda due to the national park systems now in place. In these countries, the mountain gorillas’ remaining habitat is relatively protected.

However, a large section of their habitat in the Virungas lies in the DR Congo and due to a number of factors, the forest is still being cleared to make charcoal. Even though the mountain gorillas live in a national park, the rules are not properly or consistently enforced due to corruption, instability, and war. The locals are extremely poor and the local population has increased by more than 1 million refugees from recent wars. 98% of households satellite shot of virungasuse charcoal for cooking, boiling water, and for heat, since there are no other energy sources available to them. This need drives them into the forest to cut down the trees. They then cook the wood in kilns. The finished product is the valuable charcoal.

Park rangers in the DR Congo try to stop this destructive practice, but local mafias threaten and kill the rangers in order to keep the flow of charcoal going from the park to the nearby towns. It is a very lucrative business for those controlling this trade, so the authorities have an extremely difficult, almost impossible task of trying to stop it.

The mountain gorilla's only known enemies are leopards and humans. These days leopards have become extinct in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. There are still a few in the Virungas but attacks are extremely rare. That leaves people as the main threat to their survival. Humans are responsible for poaching, deforestation, introduction of disease, and war.

Poachers have in the past killed mountain gorillas for their heads, hands, and feet, which were sold to collectors. Some infants were captured for illegal sale to zoos and collectors, which usually involved the killing of all of the adults in their group. A baby eastern lowland gorilla was seized at the airport in Goma, DR Congo in April 2009, highlighting the fact that this threat remains real. Watch video of the seize:

Caregivers gave the female gorilla seized at the airport the name Amani. It was determined that she was 2 years old because she had only been fed bananas for a month while being held captive. amani and caregiverGorillas younger than that can't survive on bananas alone as they are still being weaned and need the nourishment that only a mother can provide. The team of vets from the Gorilla Doctors took x-rays of Amani's right leg, which had a deep wound. Due to bone and tissue damage, it was determined that she had probably been shot and the bullet had exited the leg. Authorities have no idea where Amani came from, so her family's fate is unknown. But the bullet wound, combined with poachers' habits of killing the adults in a group to get a baby, leads one to fear the worst. Watch video of the procedure:

Whereas lowland gorillas are still sometimes hunted for bushmeat, mountain gorillas are not. However, they do still get maimed or killed by traps and snares that are set by poachers. Although intended for other animals such as bushbuck, gorillas sometimes still get caught in them. Snares are circular and range in size from about three-inches in diameter snare for small animals like hyrax, to 18 inch diameter ones for buffalo. They areThe Gorilla Doctors treating a patient made of rope or wire, which makes the circle that an animal steps into, and the rope is tied to a bent bamboo pole. A hole is dug into the ground and the snare is covered with branches. When the animal unwittingly steps in the wire circle of the snare, the trap is sprung, and the bamboo bends back up, making the circle tight around the leg of the animal so it can't get out.

When a mountain gorilla gets caught in a snare, it can sometimes bite through the rope and escape. If it can't, family members will come to its aid. However, because the snare has tightened around the wrist or ankle, it is hard to remove. This can cut off the circulation and cause the gorilla to lose a hand or its fingers, ruining its ability to eat. A gorilla can also lose a foot, hampering its ability to walk. The friction on the skin sometimes causes cuts that get infected, and the animal eventually dies.

There are two types of diseases that mountain gorilla encounter: natural, and those brought about by contact with humans. Because the climate is chilly and damp, gorillas can get colds, coughs, and have sinus problems, which usually don’t have serious consequences. They can also succumb to respiratory diseases like pneumonia, which is the leading cause of death for mountain gorillas in the Virungas. In 1988, an habituated gorilla in Rwanda died from viral pneumonia, most likely coming from humans. As a precaution, all habituated gorilla groups were then vaccinated against this disease. Blowpipes were used to administer the vaccine.

The real threat comes from park staff, researchers, local people and their domesticated animals, and tourists that are carrying diseases that the gorillas have never been exposed to. The gorillas are very susceptible because their immune systems have no defenses to against these foreign illnesses. Conservation Through Public Health is an organization that has a clinic outside Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda. Watch this video to see how they are trying to mitigate the risk of disease from humans:

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Although there is a high prevalence of transmissible disease among the local population, they have little contact with the gorillas, so the danger to the gorillas is minimal. Gorilla tourism is considered the biggest threat for a number of reasons. The gorillas are visited every day by park rangers and tourists, so there is constant expogorilla and touristssure. These tourists come from all over the world and so can carry germs and diseases exotic to the gorillas.

Although gorillas are susceptible to human stomach and skin parasites, airborne diseases that can be transmitted by a cough are considered especially dangerous. The chances of transmission depend on a number of factors: the number of tourists that visit a group and the duration of their stay; whether they are carrying a disease at the time and how infectious that disease is; and the proximity of the tourists to the gorillas. This last one is especially important since juvenile gorillas are more vulnerable to disease and are more curious and so more likely to approach tourists.

There are strict rules in place to try to limit the transmission from these ecotourists to the gorillas. Only 8 tourists are allowed to visit each habituated group of gorillas for one hour each day. They are not permitted to get closer than 21 feet (7 meters) to the gorillas. Tourists are asked not to go on a gorilla trek if they are feeling ill.

However, these rules are regularly broken, even in the best run parks in Uganda and Rwanda. Tourists get too close on a daily basis. One reason for this is because they are approached by the gorillas, especially the juveniles. Even when a tourist wants to retreat, which isn’t often, the dense foliage and steep topography make it difficult. tourist try to move away The dense jungle also makes it difficult at times to get a clear view of the gorillas from 21 feet away, so the guides feel pressure to allow them to get closer. Their tips may depend on it. Tourists usually want to get as close as they are allowed in order to get the best photos and video possible. VIDEO

It costs $500 for a one-hour visit with the gorillas. Having committed that much money, as well as traveling so far, most tourists will still go trekking even though they are sick at the time. Some guides will take a group of tourists to gorilla groups that are off limits officially. These groups may be in a poorly managed area like the DR Congo, in the process of being habituated, or supposed to be for research only. They then pocket the $500 per person fee themselves, which is a fortune in Africa.

Wars and political conflicts have impacted the mountain gorillas tremendously. Civil wars occurred sporadically throughout the 1990s in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Due to the outbreak of fighting, streams of refugees poured into the gorillas’ habitat. warThis led to uncontrolled firewood harvesting and increased poaching in the Virungas. Because of this, Virunga National Park was placed on the World Heritage in Danger List in 1994.

The situation in the DR Congo remains unstable and militia groups are still active in the Virungas region. Continuous political unrest and economic instability has led to the death of more than 150 rangers in the 5 parks in eastern DR Congo since 2000, and has made wardening of the area wounded rangerextremely difficult and dangerous. The conflict remains a serious threat to the Virungas gorillas and to the protected areas.

In January 2007, rebel troops in the DR Congo killed and ate 2 silverback gorillas. 5 months later, a female was found shot "execution style", point-blank in the back of her head. Her 2 month old baby named Ndakasi was found clinging to her mother’s dead body and rescued. A second gorilla was presumed dead or injured because a trail of blood was found leading from the scene. (read article).

The next month, in July 2007, an even more heinous scene would unfold that would shock the world. The Rugendo family, a gorilla group of 12 that was habituated and visited by thousands of tourists, had been attacked. 4 females and the silverbackMassacre of Rugendo family were found murdered. 5 month old Ndeze was found being carried by his brother, who had to be tranquilized in order to save the infant, who would have certainly died from lack of care. Ndeze was taken to the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International rehabilitation center in Goma, DR Congo, joining Ndakasi from the murder six weeks prior.

Photos of the dead gorillas being carried out of the forest were soon seen in magazines and newspapers around the world and ignited outrage. National Geographic rushed a photographer to the scene. The incident became the cover story of their July 2008 edition.

Because the bodies were intact and the infants left to starve to death, it is almost certain that this was not perpetrated by poachers. Ostensibly it was committed by the mafia controlling the flow of charcoal out of the forest, and aided by corrupt the orphans 1 year laterpark officials. They were sending a message to the park authorities that they were in control of this sector of the park and wanted it to serve as a warning. But because the park rangers had been chased away by rebel forces, no one knows for sure.

These killings reduced the estimated Virunga mountains population of 380 mountain gorillas by 1.6 percent. Especially devastating to the future success of this critically endangered species is the fact that 5 adult females are now dead and unable to breed.

In April of 2009, 4 senior officers of the Congolese Wildlife Agency (CWA) were fined $5,000 and sentenced to 6 months in prison. They were acquitted of the murders but found guilty of destruction of flora and fauna in conjunction with the charcoal trade. Since they were makinggorilla cemetery up to $15,000 per month from the trade, it hardly acts as a deterrent to others. But it is a step in the right direction.

As of August 2009, the trial of the former Director of Virunga National Park for the CWA Honore Mashagiro, is ongoing. Mashagiro is also accused of the destruction of flora and fauna of Virunga, including involvement in the illegal charcoal mafia and the killing of the gorillas in July 2007.

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The Gorilla Doctors treating a patient
This patient has been anesthetized and is ready to have the wire snare around her
hand removed. This is dangerous work since the patient's family members are stressed
by the team of doctors disturbing their peace and performing the procedure.
Photo courtesy of the Gorilla Doctors
doctor removing wire snare from hand
The metal snares are a nightmare. Over 1,000 illegally placed snares are removed from the park per
month. It is a huge and growing threat. Notice the abrasion on the hand, which, left untreated, could
become infected. Fortunately the Gorilla Doctors got there in time.
Photo courtesy of the Gorilla Doctors
family members try to remove a snare
The whole family comes to the aid of a victim of poachers. Sometimes they are successful.
Photo courtesy of the Gorilla Doctors
trying to bit off a rope snare
When caught, the gorillas will try to remove the snare. Sometimes the rope snare will come off and
sometimes their efforts will only make it tighter. Photo courtesy of the Gorilla Doctors
finger caught in wire snare being treated by doctors
This gorilla's finger got caught in a snare made from bicycle brake cables. The doctors removed
the snare and decided not to amputate the finger. Unfortunately the finger eventually fell off,
but the gorilla did survive. Photo courtesy of the Gorilla Doctors
leopard in the morning sun
Leopards are excellent climbers and can decend headfirst from trees. They're also fast. They can run
short distances at more than 60 km/h (37 mph). Photo courtesy of James Parker.
adj. Something used to or accustomed to something else.
Mountain gorillas have been habituated to humans so that they
are not afraid of us.
v. A thing that is intended to discourage
someone from doing something.
v. To suppose that something is
the case based on probability.
adv. Of a bullet, fired very close to its target.
v. People who illegally take fish or animals, especially
while trespassing on someone else's property.
n. The arrangement of the physical features of an
area, especially with respect to elevation.
n. Plant leaves.
n. The state of being near something
in space or time.
n. Amount of time during which
something happens.
adj. Easily influenced or affected.
adj. Originating in or of a distant
foreign country. Out of the ordinary.
adj. Characterized by the ability to be passed
on from one person to another.
n. An acute or chronic disease marked by
inflammation of the lungs.
adj. Relating to or affecting the process
of breathing or the lungs.
n. The flow of blood through the body's vessels
as a result of the heart's pumping action.
adv. Of a person, not aware of the full facts.
Not done on purpose.
v. To disable or disfigure, usually by destroying
the use of a limb or other part of the body.
adj. Producing wealth; profitable.
n. Secret criminal organizations that
conduct illegal business.
a dead gorilla being carried out of the forest
Local people and park rangers were heart broken. Some had almost daily contact with the Rugendo family, taking tourists
to visit them. Even the farmers, whose crops were regularly raided by the group, were saddened. It was like a death in the
family to many of them. Photo courtesy of gorillacd.org
gorilla cemetery
The cemetery sign reads "Silverback Senkwekwe; died on July 22, 2007; son
of Rugendo (for which the family was named); Silverback since 1999.
Photo courtesy of gorillacd.org
bullet riddled sign
This bullet riddled sign highlights the incredibe difficulties faced by park
rangers on a continuing basis. Photo courtesy of gorillacd.org
amani and caregiver
Amani responded well to treatment and care from the vets at MGVP after being found dehydrated and
wounded at the bottom of a bag covered in clothes. The name Amani means peace- a hopeful name in a
troubled region. Photo courtesy of the Gorilla Doctors
3,500 Euros (as of August 2009)
10,500 Euros (as of August 2009)
honore mashagiro
Honore Mashagiro. Photo courtesy of gorillacd.org
the orphans 1 year later
Ndeze and Ndakasi playing in their caregiver's backyard 1 year after the
murder. They may never be able to return to their natural habitat. Their
home is unsafe. Their families are gone. Because they have had constant
human care and contact, they are very habituated to people, which is
unavoidable when hand-raising orphaned gorillas.
Photo courtesy of the Gorilla Doctors
national geographic magazine cover
Massacre of Rugendo family
Senkwekwe, the silverback, along with Neeza, mother of a 2
year old, Mburanumwe, who was pregnant, and Safari, mother
of Ndeze. Also killed but not shown were Macibiri with her infant
Ntaribi. Photo courtesy of gorillacd.org
ndeze and Ndakasi with caregiver
Newly orphaned, Ndeze and Ndakasi enjoy the comfort of their caregiver's foot. Photo courtesy of
Photo courtesy of the Gorilla Doctors
ndeze with mom
This is Ndeze with her mother, Safari, who was killed in the massacre. This photo was taken when Ndeze was
less than 1 month old, about 4 months before the brutal killing. Photo courtesy of gorillacd.org
ndakasi after rescue
After she was rescued, Ndakasi came down with an acute viral infection. But thanks to an improvised
oxygen chamber and continued care by the veterinarians at the Gorilla Doctors, she is
now a happy, healthy baby girl. Photo courtesy of the Gorilla Doctors
350 Euros (as of August 2009)
traditional blowpipe
Blowpipes were traditionally used for hunting in South America and Southeast Asia
(shown here), but not Africa. Doctors administering the vaccines to the gorillas decided
to use blowpipes because they are quieter than dart guns, thus mimimizing the trauma
to the gorillas. Photo courtesy of Jess Cheng via CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
poacher caught with bushbuck
A poacher (in red shirt) was found transporting this bushbuck he had caught in
a snare. Photo courtesy of gorillacd.org
chimp for sale in market
This practice continues today and gorillas aren't the only animals
sold on the black market. This baby chimp is for sale in a market in
Goma, DR Congo. Photo courtesy of gorillacd.org
park ranger finds trees cut down
A park ranger on patrol finds a cache of wood ready to be placed in a kiln.
Photo courtesy of gorillacd.org
woman stopped carrying charcoal
Charcoal mules carry bags from the forest to the closest road for transport to market.
This woman was stopped by a patrol. Photo courtesy of gorillacd.org
refugee camp
Refugees displaced by the fighting have been set up in camps near Goma, DR Congo.
Photo courtesy of gorillacd.org
silverback looks at deforestration
This silverback probably can't see the deforestration that has taken place in the distance.
Photo courtesy of gorillacd.org
why listed?
The criteria met for the mountain gorilla to be listed as critically endangered in 2008 were:
(a) there were about 300 mature adults, and (b) there is a distinct possibility that there will be
a 25% reduction in the population during the next generation (20 years) due to poaching,
disease, and war. Photo courtesy of Wolfgang Moeller.
A boy, his family, and all of their posessions arrive at a refugee camp for
those displaced by fighting in the Virunga region.
Photo courtesy of gorillacd.org
wounded ranger
A park ranger with the bullet that was removed from his arm following an
attack on his vehicle in June 2008, Virunga National Park, DR Congo.
Photo courtesy of gorillacd.org
Fighting breaks out once again in DR Congo in September 2008.
Photo courtesy of gorillacd.org
tourist try to move away
Because the gorillas within a group are often dispersed over a wide area and move about freely, tourists can
find themselves surrounded by them. The dense foliage makes it impossible to move away quickly.
Photo by Tony Hartman.
gorilla and tourists
Gorillas get very close to tourists because they have been habituated and have no fear of humans. The tourists
want to get as close as possible. A dangerous combination for disease transmission.
Photo by Tony Hartman.
Park rangers in DR Congo found and removed 536 snares while conducting a
gorilla census in January 2009. Photo courtesy of gorillacd.org
african kids
n. The quality or condition of being dense. The quantity of something per unit
measure, especially per unit length, area, or volume. Population density is
measured in people per square kilometer or per sq mile.
Photo by Tony Hartman.
charcoal burning from air
Clearcutting is carried out by bigger players in the charcoal trade.
Photo courtesy of gorillacd.org
Charcoal in bags ready for market. Photo courtesy of gorillacd.org
A kiln burning to make charcoal in Virunga National Park, DR Congo.
Photo courtesy of gorillacd.org
cut down trees
Forest destruction caused by charcoal makers in Virunga National Park,
DR Congo. Photo courtesy of gorillacd.org
Looking into Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda. The terraced fields were once forest,
which you can see in the background. Photo by Tony Hartman
satellite shot of virungas
This photo of the Virungas was taken by the Landsat 7 satellite. The dark green is
the remaining forest habitat of the mountain gorillas. Surrounding it is light green
farmland cut out of the forest by man, as evidenced by the sharp, straight lines
between the two. Photo courtesy of NASA.

population density
Map background courtesy of Wikimedia Commons via CC BY-SA 3.0. Map edited by igorilla.org
n. When a group of related individuals within an
isolated or closed group produce offspring.
lilac breasted roller
The lilac breasted roller lives in Africa and feeds on grasshoppers, beetles, lizards, and small amphibians.
It will look for bush fires and wait for their prey to flee the fires, when it is easier to catch them.
Photo courtesy of Arno Meintjes via CC BY-NC 2.0
leopard in the sun
The white spots on the tip of their tails and back of their ears help leopards locate and communicate
with each other in tall grass. Leopards can jump up to 20 feet horizontally and 10 feet vertically!
There are an estimated 50,000 living in Africa. Photo courtesy of www.hoothollow.com
polar bear
A polar bear's fur is not white! It is hollow. The fur reflects light. The hollow fur also traps the sun's heat to
help keep the polar bear warm. Scientists estimate that there are about 20,000 left in the wild. Photo
courtesy of Ansgar Walk via CC BY-SA 2.5
hyacinth macaw
The hyacinth macaw is the largest of all parrots and lives in southern Brazil and western Bolivia. It has
an enormous wingspan of more than 4 feet (127 centimeters). An estimated 3,000-5,000 live in the
wild. Photo courtesy of Randy Read via CC BY 2.0
mountain gorilla male
Guess who? Only about 720 are still alive today.
Photo courtesy of Albert Herbigneaux.
south china tiger
The rarest tiger in existence, the south china tiger is one of the most endangered animals in the world.
Threatened with imminent extinction, this tiger has dwindled in number from thousands to less than 100.
It is only found in zoos today, mostly in China. It has not been seen in its native habitat in China's mountains
since 1983. Photo courtesy of John Tansey via CC BY 2.
japanese wolf
The japanese wolf lived on the island of Hokkaido, Japan, and was hunted to
extinction in 1905. This is a photo of a stuffed one that still looks good after more
than 100 years. Photo courtesy of Nemo's great uncle via CC BY-NC-SA 2.0