Small populations are particularly susceptible to disturbance. Routine censusing to monitor changes is important for understanding both population dynamics and the effectiveness of conservation strategies. Mountain gorillas Gorilla beringei beringei in the Virunga Volcanoes region of Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo have been censused five times since 1970. However, due to war and political unrest in the region since 1990, no census had been conducted since 1989, when the population was thought to number 324 gorillas. In 2000 we estimated population size using repeated observations of 17 habituated groups and information on 15 unhabituated groups obtained during patrols. The minimum population was 359 gorillas, and a best-case scenario correcting for groups that might not have been counted was 395. Using the minimum population and best-case scenario respectively, this represents a 0.9% or 1.8% annual growth rate over the last decade and 1.0% or 1.3% annual growth rate since 1972. This is lower than growth estimates made in several population viability analyses, but approximately 5% of the 1989 population is known to have died due to military activity over the last decade. Different subsets of the population exhibited different responses to disturbance caused by war. We discuss conservation strategies that are likely to have contributed to an increase in the gorilla population during this time of turmoil. While the population has grown, the results should be viewed with caution, not only because all known growth during the last decade can be attributed to one subset of the population, but also because the region is still plagued by political unrest.
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