Conservation Groups Join Hands to Save World’s Largest Gorillas

Conservation Groups Join Hands to Save World’s Largest Gorillas

Eastern lowland gorillas are one of the largest apes in the world and also the rarest. Now in order to save these dying species several conservation organisations have come together to strategically protect and work to save them.

Endangered Grauer’s or eastern lowland gorilla (Gorilla beringei graueri) are found in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). They are one of the largest primates known in the world. But the region where they are found along with their cousin Chimpanzees has been engulfed in conflict since 1996 which has made it hard to monitor and check on the safety of these primates.

Now The Jane Goodall Institute, Fauna & Flora International (FFI), the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), Frankfurt Zoological Society (FZS), Conservation International (CI), the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International (DFGFI), and local conservation organizations have partnered with the Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN), the Ministry of the Environment, Nature Conservation and Tourism (MECNT), national military and police authorities, and local communities to support the conservation of these gorillas. This conservation plan is under the banner of International Union for conservation of Nature (IUCN).

This is an important step as it brings together government, non government organisations as well as experts who can study the reason for the decline of the species and plan actions that can help protect the gorillas.

Dario Merlo of the Jane Goodall Institute said: “Conserving the remaining Grauer’s gorilla populations, as well as chimpanzees in the area, requires a dynamic approach and the participation of all areas of society from national government to local communities.”

The different team members have now identified core issues and each is now looking at one issue to proactively manage the conservation plan. The first important point under consideration is finding out the true status of gorillas and chimpanzees in the region.

It was in 1950 that the first survey of the gorillas was carried out by George Schaller of WCS and John Emlen. At that time they were considered to be the same species as mountain gorillas.

The initial surveys concluded that these gorillas were rare and rapidly declining due to habitat destruction, hunting for meat, and retaliation for crop raiding.

The next survey did not occur before 1994. It also included the areas – Kahuzi-Biega National Park and its adjacent forests, the Itombwe Massif, and Maiko National Park. This study too found out that the gorillas were still threatened especially because of hunting and human settlement. They also found that many sub populations had been lost.

Results of these surveys suggested that at the time the region supported approximately 17,000 gorillas.

“In the 1990s, carrying out surveys in this region was challenging, but we did not have to contend with the insecurity that followed. Comprehensive follow-up surveys have been impossible until now” said Dr Liz Williamson of the IUCN/SSC Primate Specialist Group.

Andrew Plumptre of WCS says that along with Fauna & Flora International and the Jane Goodall Institute they have designed a new scientific approach to survey this endangered ape across its 80,000 square kilometer range with statistical help from the Max Planck Institute of Evolutionary Anthropology. This will allow them improved monitoring in the future of this species in a more cost-effective manner.  It will also help them monitor the impacts of the civil war in the DRC on Grauer’s gorilla numbers.

Lilian Pintea of the Jane Goodall Institute said, “With support from Google, DigitalGlobe and Esri, we are also applying innovative, cutting-edge mobile mapping, satellite imagery, and cloud-based technologies to equip survey teams with high-resolution base maps and enable local communities to contribute to ape monitoring efforts.”

In spite of the constant conflicts in the region since 2003, several attempts were made to check the range of these gorillas. While results from these preliminary surveys found that gorillas still exist at several key sites, they also documented what appears to be a severe decline of 50-80% since the 1990s.

Stuart Nixon of Fauna & Flora International said,

 ”Today, the remaining Grauer’s gorilla populations are small and localised and occur in regions of intense illegal mining activity and insecurity. Until we can complete the much-needed surveys, our best guess is that between 2,000 and 10,000 gorillas remain in around 14 isolated populations. Without a dedicated effort, the next 10 years will be marked by continuing local extinctions of this forgotten gorilla.”

The new survey will thus help in noting which group needs immediate attention and can recover from a targeted conservation effort.

The gorillas have been classified as Endangered by IUCN’s Red List.