Our directory of things of interest

University Directory

Extinction Watch: Grauer’s Gorillas

  • Written by  Estelle Hakner
  • Published in Wildlife
Grauer’s gorillas have been systematically hunted by miners for bush meat Grauer’s gorillas have been systematically hunted by miners for bush meat FLPA/Alamy
05 Sep
2016
Civil war and associated illegal mining in the DRC region could see one of our ‘closest living relatives’ completely wiped out within the next few decades

Illegally hunted for bush meat, devastated by unsustainable deforestation and driven away by unlawful mining: in the war-torn Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), one subspecies of eastern gorilla is struggling to cling on. The Grauer’s gorilla (which is closely related to the mountain gorilla, but has shorter hair and longer limbs) has seen its numbers drop from 17,000 in 1995 to just 3,800 in 2016. Conservationists are now calling for the world’s largest ape to be listed as ‘critically endangered’ on the IUCN Red List.

The odds have been against the Grauer’s (or eastern lowland) gorilla since the Congolese civil war ravaged the country in 1996. As refugees fled the Rwandan genocide, neighbouring Zaire (renamed the DRC in 1997) became occupied by militia groups, many of which used illegal artisanal coltan mines (a mineral used to make mobile phones) to fund their operations. With the sites located deep within the forests, miners had no choice but to hunt bush meat to survive. The Grauer’s gorilla, weighing up to 180kg, was a valuable target. As the subspecies live in cohesive social structures, hunting large groups was easy.

The utter breakdown of government control at the onset of this humanitarian crisis meant that for more than a decade conservationists could only guess at the gorilla’s current status. Though 69 rebel groups continuing to occupy the eastern region, a fresh headcount has finally been possible. The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and Fauna & Flora International (FFI) have found that, since 1994, Grauer’s gorilla populations have declined by a devastating 77 per cent. Nearly 80 per cent of these losses have occurred in as little as one generation, which is three times the rate required for an IUCN ‘critically endangered’ listing.

As one of our closest living relatives, we have a duty to protect this gorilla from extinction

‘As one of our closest living relatives, we have a duty to protect this gorilla from extinction,’ says Stuart Nixon, one of the study’s co-authors. ‘Unless greater investment and effort is made, we face the very real threat that this incredible primate will disappear from many parts of its range in the next five years. It’s vital we act fast.’

Thalia Liokatis, DRC Programme Coordinator at FFI, says that gaining concrete data has been a huge achievement: ‘It will enable us to reclassify the species and develop urgent priority activities aimed at saving it. The biggest challenge will be to secure continuous funding so that the main threats to Grauer’s gorillas can be tackled – dealing with artisanal mining, providing alternative proteins to bush meat, supporting income generation for local communities and maintaining habitat connectivity.’

At one site in Kahuzi-Beiga National Park, Grauer’s gorilla populations have increased from 181 to 213 in the past five years. The study’s lead author, Andrew Plumptre of WCS, says it’s up to the government to regain control and enable similar success across the eastern region: ‘The government needs to quickly establish Reserve des Gorilles de Punia and the Itombwe Reserve, and reinforce Kahuzi-Biega National Park efforts, and to establish strong coordination between ICCN and the DRC military to tackle armed militias that control mining camps in the Grauer’s gorilla heartland.’

This was published in the September 2016 edition of Geographical magazine.

Related items

Geographical Week

Get the best of Geographical delivered straight to your inbox every Friday.

LATEST HEADLINES

Subscribe to Geographical!

Adventure Canada

EDUCATION PARTNERS

Aberystwyth University University of Greenwich The University of Winchester

TRAVEL PARTNERS

Ponant

Silversea

Travel the Unknown

DOSSIERS

Like longer reads? Try our in-depth dossiers that provide a comprehensive view of each topic

  • National Clean Air Day
    For National Clean Air Day, Geographical brings together stories about air pollution and the kind of solutions needed to tackle it ...
    The Air That We Breathe
    Cities the world over are struggling to improve air quality as scandals surrounding diesel car emissions come to light and the huge health costs of po...
    Diabetes: The World at Risk
    Diabetes is often thought of as a ‘western’ problem, one linked to the developed world’s overindulgence in fatty foods and chronic lack of physi...
    When the wind blows
    With 1,200 wind turbines due to be built in the UK this year, Mark Rowe explores the continuing controversy surrounding wind power and discusses the e...
    REDD+ or Dead?
    The UN-backed REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) scheme, under which developing nations would be paid not to cut dow...

MORE DOSSIERS

NEVER MISS A STORY - Follow Geographical on Social

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in NATURE...

Polar

Celebrate World Penguin Day with this selection of penguin-related stories…

Geophoto

It takes a lot more than the latest research data…

Wildlife

NGOs shine a light on the underreporting of wildlife crime…

Wildlife

Pioneering laser photography is being used by scientists on the…

Geophoto

Annual competition looks to celebrate island life in all its…

Oceans

Increasing interest in offshore aquaculture is dividing environmentalists

Energy

Well-meaning promises don’t always have positive outcomes. Marco Magrini finds…

Wildlife

The RSPB introduces a new hotline for reporting the unlawful…

Wildlife

With the death earlier this week of the world’s last…

Geophoto

The essence of street photography is its raw, unfiltered, unstaged…

Energy

For Marco Magrini, a tax on fossil fuels would be…

Wildlife

Half of animal species in world’s most biodiverse areas could…

Wildlife

Four-year project to reestablish safe breeding grounds for seabirds on…

Wildlife

First global atlas of soil bacteria reveals a small minority…

Polar

Scientists discover how shrubs are dominating the Arctic tundra

Wildlife

War and conservation have a complicated relationship, with two studies…

Climate

Why is Europe so cold right now? Marco Magrini suggests…

Wildlife

Threatened Californian owls are suffering from digesting rat poison administered…

Oceans

With the majority of the ocean still remaining undiscovered, a…

Oceans

Belize bans offshore oil extraction to protect the second longest…