The population of Uganda's mountain gorillas has grown to 400, up from 302 in 2006, according to a census conducted last year. That brings the total number of mountain gorillas in Africa to 880 and gives hope to conservationists trying to save the critically endangered species.
Uganda has come to depend heavily on the popular apes for substantial tourism revenue. The rest of the surviving mountain gorillas — the species Gorilla beringei beringei — are in Congo and Rwanda.
"The increase in the population of mountain gorillas in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is testimony to the sound natural resource management policies that are being implemented in the protected areas," Uganda's Ministry of Tourism said in a statement Friday.
The park, a network of forested jungle deep in the country's southwestern frontier, is recognized by UNESCO as a heritage site of world value. A permit to track gorillas there costs at least $500, and the World Wildlife Fund estimates that each gorilla brings in up to $1 million in revenue each year for the East African country.
The census shows a stunning recovery for a species that once faced a real threat of extinction. Mountain gorillas still face threats ranging from loss of habitat loss to poaching, especially in Congo, where lawlessness in the country's vast eastern territory has allowed illegal hunters to prosper.
The conservation group Gorilla Doctors said the population growth was partly due to "extreme conservation" methods such as daily ranger monitoring in the forest.
Ugandan wildlife officials have been able to build partnerships with local communities in part by pouring some of the revenue into local projects, converting hostile groups into friendly advocates for the gorillas' survival.