Scientists are concerned that a great ape, called Grauer’s gorilla, may soon become extinct. Standing more than 1.5 meter (5 feet) tall and weighing about 180 kilograms (400 pounds), the Grauer’s gorilla is the world’s largest primate—the category of mammals that includes humans, apes, and monkeys. According to a recent report, the number of Grauer’s gorillas has dropped from about 17,000 in 1995 to only about 3,800 today. That’s a decrease of about 77 percent.
“The amount of the decline was a shock—much worse than we had predicted,” says Andrew Plumptre, a scientist at the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) who helped author the report. If the decline continues at the same rate, he and other conservationists fear that Grauer’s gorillas could disappear from the wild forever in the next 5 to 10 years.
GORILLAS IN DANGER
Grauer’s gorillas—also known as eastern lowland gorillas—live only in the forests of eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, a country in Africa. In recent years, the animals have lost much of their forest habitat—an organism’s natural home—as people have cleared trees to make room for farms and livestock. The gorillas faced other serious threats as well.
From 1996 until 2003, a civil war raged in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The war killed 5 million people and had devastating consequences for wildlife, especially Grauer’s gorillas. To help fund the fighting, armed groups set up mines to unearth copper and other resources in remote areas. With little food available, the miners began to poach—illegally hunt—and eat local wildlife. Grauer’s gorillas were prized targets because of their large size. Though the fighting has mostly stopped, nearly 70 armed groups remain in the country. Mining operations continue to grow, and many Grauer’s gorillas are still killed for their meat.
HELP ON THE WAY
Since the 1980s, Grauer’s gorilla has been listed as endangered—having a high risk of extinction in the wild. Conservationists are now pushing for the animal’s status to be changed to “critically endangered”—only one step away from being labeled as extinct. This change would bring more support and funding to help save Grauer’s gorilla.
Some people are already working to help the species make a comeback. Officials at Kahuzi-Biega National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo have increased efforts to protect gorillas inside the park. As a result, the number of Grauer’s gorillas there has risen from 132 in the year 2000 to 200 today. The WCS is also working to create two new protected areas that would safeguard 60 percent of the gorillas’ remaining habitat. Many experts hope that the government will take steps to help the gorillas, too, like ending illegal mining.
“There is still hope to save these animals and the ecosystems they represent,” says Jefferson Hall, a scientist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute who worked on the recent report.