A new study by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) has updated the estimate of the world’s critically endangered Grauer’s gorilla population (Gorilla beringei graueri) – the largest gorilla subspecies in the world – at 6,800 individuals compared to a previous global estimate of 3,800 individuals. This revised estimate comes from recent field surveys conducted in one of the largest remaining strongholds of this animal, in areas that were previously inaccessible for surveys. However, these gorillas continue to be severely affected by continuing insecurity and human incursions into their remaining habitat in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Publication in the American Journal of Primatology, the authors found a total of 3,815 Grauer’s gorillas remaining in Kahuzi-Biega National Park and adjoining Oku community forests. These two areas are home to nearly 60 percent of the world’s population.
A previous peer-reviewed article led by WCS in 2016 showed an almost 80 percent decline in the population of these gorillas since the last range-wide survey conducted in the mid-1990s. , due to insecurity, the 2016 estimate did not include data from all areas of Grauer’s gorilla range. The 2021 population estimate includes new field surveys in the Oku forests conducted over the past four years and provides the most recent assessment of the subspecies to date. These new findings still maintain Grauer’s gorillas as critically endangered, but suggest the declines were not as large as previously feared. The results also give hope for the conservation of Grauer’s gorilla in this difficult area. Gorilla populations in the Oku forests and highlands of Kahuzi-Biega National Park have remained relatively stable over the past 20 years, underscoring the importance of these areas to the future of this subspecies.
“This is one of the most in-depth investigations ever of this great ape, carried out under very difficult circumstances. It is a tribute to the courage and dedication of the Congolese biologists who took part, often threatened by the current insecurity. said lead author of the study, Dr Andrew Plumptre, of the Key Biodiversity Area Secretariat hosted by Birdlife International, who conducted the research with WCS. “We show that gorillas and chimpanzees avoid areas of mineral extraction, an occupation that contributes to insecurity in the region”
In addition, there is good news for chimpanzee populations, which have also been maintained over the past twenty years. However, many other primates have declined, possibly due to bushmeat hunting, especially the endangered Ulindi River red colobus (Piliocolobus lulindicus).
Grauer’s gorillas are a subspecies of the eastern gorilla found only in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo and can weigh over 450 pounds (204 kilograms).
The authors say the study results underscore the importance of good forest protection in the region. They note that Oku Community Forest probably has more Grauer gorillas than any other site in its range and, along with Kahuzi-Biega National Park, is this monkey’s last stronghold. In 2018, three local community forest concessions with a total area of 1,465 square kilometers (565 square miles) were created and allocated for community management in Oku. In addition, WCS is working with these communities, the Government Agency for Nature Conservation, ICCN, and the local NGO Reserve des Gorilles de Punia (RGPu), to create an additional wildlife reserve in the Oku forests. to secure up to 3,000 square kilometers (1,158 miles) of forest for gorillas and other flora and fauna in this region.
According to Deo Kujirakwinja, co-author and technical director of WCS DRC: “Without good forest protection and management, Grauer’s gorillas would be on the verge of extinction. They face increasing pressure to destroy their habitat through mining and poaching for food. to save Grauer’s gorillas and other primates.
The civil war in the DRC and the continued presence of armed rebel groups have made conservation extremely difficult. In addition, the expansion of mining in the region is putting additional pressure on gorilla habitat and gorilla hunting for food to feed the booming mining towns. Over 80% of the world’s supply of coltan – used in many electronics and electric cars – is found in the DRC, including much of Grauer’s gorilla habitat. Conservation efforts should now focus on supporting local community management of Oku forests to protect gorillas and their habitats from external threats.
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