Recent attacks on mountain gorillas in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have put a spotlight on this gentle giant.
The more well-known of two subspecies of Eastern gorilla (Gorilla beringei) is the mountain gorilla, made famous by the work of Dian Fossey and the target of an August 2006 attack on the Virunga population. Six gorillas were killed, and two infants were orphaned.
Until the attacks, this subspecies was held up as a rare conservation success for Africa’s great apes. From 1989 to 2003, scientists documented a population increase in this subspecies, which is found in the DRC, Rwanda, and Uganda. About 700 mountain gorillas are estimated to remain in the wild.
The second subspecies, the Grauer’s gorilla only survives in lowland rain forests and mountains of eastern DRC. These primates face severe threats from deforestation and illegal wildlife trade and hunting. In the mid 1990s, scientists estimated there were 17,000 Grauer’s gorillas left in the Eastern Afromontane Biodiversity Hotspot and the Congo Basin High-Biodiversity Wilderness Area. Today, after more than a decade of losses, scientists are unsure how many remain but estimates are as low as 5,000.
The story is far bleaker for the Western lowland gorilla (Gorilla gorilla), which has suffered even greater losses as a result of heavy commercial poaching and Ebola outbreaks due to increased human contact. In some areas, more than half of the gorilla populations recorded in the 1980s and 1990s have been lost.
In the DRC, CI and the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International support the Tayna Gorilla Reserve, a community-managed protected area that safeguards vital gorilla habitat. Through this program, Congolese scientists have reported larger than previously recorded populations of Grauer’s gorilla, once feared to be at risk of local extinction.
LEARN MORE: The Tayna Center for Conservation Biology
The program has expanded to include seven reserves that link Maiko and Kahuzi-Biega National Parks. The parks and reserves together form a landscape corridor of more than 17 million acres, protecting roughly 90 percent of the Grauer’s gorilla’s range. CI is also providing support to conservation efforts for mountain gorillas.
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