Central African mountain gorillas came off the ‘critically endangered’ species list this week following a dramatic recovery in numbers over the past decade.
A survey this year found numbers jumped to 1,000 individuals, from 680 in 2008, enabling scientists to reclassify the species as ‘endangered’.
“Even though the rise of the mountain gorilla population is fantastic, the species is still in danger and conservation efforts must go on,” Liz Williamson, primate specialist for the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) said.
The IUCN classifies species according to how much under threat they are and numbers for most high-profile ones are falling.
The legendary ‘silverback’ gorillas — which roam forest-cloaked volcanoes of the Western Rift Valley where Rwanda, Congo and Uganda meet — draw thousands of tourists willing to pay hundreds of dollars to see them. Their habitat supports other species found nowhere else, including golden monkeys.
They are limited to two protected areas: the Virunga Massif, spanning all three countries and Uganda’s Bwindi national park. Both are surrounded by farmland where a growing human population threatens encroachment.
They are under threat from poachers, civil unrest and diseases, including the Ebola virus.
“The biggest threat to the mountain gorilla population would be a new and highly contagious disease, that would be hard to control,” Williamson told Reuters.
Andrew Seguya from the Greater Virunga Transboundary Collaboration said the rising number of gorillas means their habitat mist be expanded and more money raised for communities in the area.
“While the downlisting shows our efforts are working, we must not sit back, we must do more,” Seguya said.