The Mountain Gorillas of Rwanda

mountain gorilla

The mountain gorillas of Rwanda are the only primate species in the world that is growing in number, making this critically endangered species a success story.  (Photo credit: erwinf/Shutterstock)

The mountain gorillas of war-torn Rwanda are making a comeback.

Though declared “critically endangered” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (ICUN), in recent years, the population of mountain gorillas has grown from just 254 in 1981 to more than 600 in 2015. In fact, mountain gorillas are the only primate species in the world that is growing in number, making the species quite the success story.

In total, there are around 900 mountain gorillas that remain in the wild. Wild populations of mountain gorillas are found in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda and Virunga Massif, a range of mountains where Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo meet.

Due to Rwanda’s devastating civil war in the mid-1990s, the tourism industry fell to a standstill. However, as the country has regained stability, the ecotourism industry is seeing a renaissance. Gorilla trekking alone contributes nearly $21 million annually to the country’s economy. In the past decade, the number of visitors has tripled; in 2014 more than 20,000 tourists visited the area.

Visiting Rwanda’s mountain gorilla population is no small feat. In 2015, a trekking permit cost $750. This money not only goes toward conserving gorilla habitat, but it also supports local communities as 5 percent of revenues go to supporting local infrastructure, including building schools and health centers and improving roads.

Gorilla treks are highly regulated. Only a total of 80 visitors are permitted each day, and they are divided into smaller groups of 8 people each. These groups are allowed to spend no more than one hour with the gorillas. Within Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park, there are 19 groups of gorillas. Ten of these are habituated to tourist groups and nine are studied solely by wildlife biologists.

However, even as gorilla-related tourism takes off in Rwanda, hazards remain for these critically endangered animals. Poaching, disease, and habitat loss are the chief concerns.

More to Explore

Mountain Gorilla: An Endangered Species
History of Mountain Gorilla Research
Mountain Gorilla
Natural History Notebooks: Mountain Gorilla
Gorillas in Rwanda: the world’s greatest conservation success?

Country: Rwanda

Location: Rwanda is located in Central Africa east of the Democratic Republic of Congo and north of Burundi.

Area: 26,338 sq km (land and water) (slightly smaller than Maryland)

Climate: Rwanda has a temperate climate with two rainy seasons (February to April, November to January).

Terrain: The terrain of Rwanda consists of mostly grassy uplands and hills.

Natural Resources: Arable land, cassiterite (tin ore), gold, hydropower, methane, wolframite (tungsten ore)

Economics: $20.32  billion (est. 2015)

Environmental Issues: Deforestation results from uncontrolled cutting of trees for fuel; overgrazing; soil exhaustion; soil erosion; widespread poaching

Source: CIA – The World Factbook (

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