Numbers of the world’s largest great ape have dropped dramatically from a population of 17,000 in 1995 to 3,800 today, according to new research.
The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and Fauna and Flora International believe their findings in a report published this week justify raising the status of the Grauer’s gorilla (G. b. graueri) to “critically endangered” on the IUCN’s red list of threatened species.
The subspecies of gorilla – also known as the Eastern lowland gorilla – is only found in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Weighing up to 180kg, they are closely related to mountain gorillas.
War in the region has affected wildlife through increased deforestation, and the area has seen an increase in the illegal bushmeat trade and illegal mining.
There is a human cost too – WCS reports that on 31 March, a guard was killed by armed rebels in an ambush in Kahuzi-Biega national park, the only site where the study found the gorillas were increasing in number.
Radar Nishuli, the park’s chief warden and co-author of the report, said: “What we have found in the field is extremely worrying. We are urging a strong and targeted response that addresses the following: Train, support and equip eco-guards to tackle poaching more effectively; build intelligence networks, and support the close daily monitoring of gorilla families to ensure their protection; engage customary chiefs who hold traditional power in the region to educate their communities to stop hunting these apes.”
Andrew Plumptre, the study’s lead author, said the government is taking some action, but much more needs to be done. Plumptre said he would like to see co-operation between the park wardens and DRC army, like in Uganda.
“There have been some discussions in DRC about creating a ‘green beret’ force from a battalion in the army that would support the parks. There is some concern about how this would be structured as there is a need for the force to report to the chief park warden at each site rather than be independent,” he said.
“This structure has worked fairly well in Uganda. If they were independent of the parks authority (ICCN) the outcome might be much more difficult to manage than currently – so I would only be supportive of such a collaboration if the structure and management of the soldiers fell under ICCN’s authority.”
Source: The Guardian UK