Scientists found the population of the endangered primate increased to 480 this year from 380 in 2003 when the last census was conducted in the Virunga Massif, a chain of volcanoes stretching along the borders of Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Rwanda’s gorilla-viewing tourism industry is a leading source of foreign exchange.
Along with the 302 mountain gorillas counted in 2006 in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and four orphaned mountain gorillas in a sanctuary in DRC, the total known world population is 786, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) said in a statement.
The census was conducted in March and April this year by people who walked over 1,000 km in the DRC, Rwanda and Uganda, meticulously documenting fresh signs of mountain gorilla groups.
Tom Sengalama, a conservationist, said the three countries and various conservation agencies were collaborating to increase the size of the Gorilla habitat since one of the main reasons the gorillas are endangered is human encroachment.
“It is because of the uncontrolled hunting, destruction of its forest habitat and capture for the illegal pet trade that led to a dramatic decline in gorilla numbers and as a result the species is threatened with extinction in the same century it was discovered,” Sengalama said.
During the census, genetic analysis of fecal samples collected were identified and corrected for any double-counting of individuals or groups, ensuring the most accurate estimate for the population, the researchers said.
“The increase in mountain gorilla numbers is a testament that we are all reaping from the conservation efforts sowed on a daily basis,” Head of Tourism and Conservation at Rwanda Development Board, Rica Rwigamba said.
Rwigamba said despite Rwanda generating more than 90 percent of her tourism revenue from gorilla trekking, the increase in the gorilla population would not necessarily reflect on revenues because visit were still limited to individual gorilla groups.
She said each day only 64 tourist can trek the gorillas with each international visitor paying not less than $500 per visit.
Rwanda last year attracted $175 million from tourism and the country was targeting $186 million by the end of 2010, the country’s Development Board has said.