Grauer’s Gorilla: Congo Gorilla Victim Of War-Torn Nation, Less Than 4,000 Exist

The Grauer’s gorilla in the Congo is numbered, thanks to continuing conflict in the war-torn region. Grauer’s is a subspecies of the Mountain gorilla found only in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. Civil wars have claimed up to six million human lives from 1996 to 2003. The ravages of war have also affected the gorillas, according to Gizmodo.

The report states that the largest of great apes on Earth have “suffered a ‘catastrophic’ population collapse over the past twenty years,” according to a report published by the Wildlife Conservation Society.

Grauer’s gorillas are cousins of the mountain gorillas and weigh up to 400 pounds. Only a thousand mountain gorillas remain in the wild. In the early 1990s, the population of Grauer’s gorillas in the Congo were at 17,000. Wildlife biologists at the WCS and Fauna & Flora International have figured that fewer than 4,000 Grauer’s exist — a 77 percent population decline over the course of a generation. Wildlife experts have predetermined for a long time that civil unrest would put the gorilla population at risk, and now their fears are being confirmed.

One of the researchers in the campaign explained that it’s been impossible to access many of the areas where the Grauer’s gorilla lives in the Congo. Lead study author Andy Plumptre explained that this is the most “comprehensive report to date, and it’s a lot worse than we expected.”

The Grauer’s gorillas’ trouble began during the Rwandan genocide of 1994. When hundreds of thousands of refugees tried to flee, it led to the eventual civil war. Nine other nations and several armed fighters were part of the conflict over the Congo’s rich mineral resources. Millions were killed through fighting, disease, and starvation over the years.

Deaths of humans aside, the war sparked illegal hunting, logging, and the extraction of precious coltan and gold ores throughout the eastern Congo’s rain forests. The spawning of a conflict mineral market put the country’s wildlife in danger.

“We believe small scale mining is the main cause [of the gorilla decline],” Plumptre said. “A lot of these militia groups are going deep into the forest, partly to avoid being chased out by the military. In order to keep themselves going, they mine. And because there’s no food, they’re hunting bushmeat.”

Apes are easy targets for humans because they move around in groups, leaving behind them large footprints that can be tracked.

Scores of wildlife biologists, rangers, and community volunteers literally risked their lives to learn more about the current state of the elusive Grauer’s gorilla population in the Congo forest. Plumptre said there were teams who were kidnapped by rebels, chased around the forest, and shot at. Several park rangers have even bee killed in the effort, with the most recent death being on March 31.

Luckily, it’s not too late to turn things around for the remaining Grauer’s gorillas. The new WCS report is urging the protection of these animals by enforcing vital measures, which include “securing the borders around existing national parks, and establishing legal boundaries around the Itombwe and Punia Gorilla Reserves, two critically important but outlying population strongholds.”

Another measure to help Grauer’s gorillas in the Congo is to bring illegal mining under control. Such an action would require DRC military intervention as well as stricter international oversight to prevent conflict minerals from entering the world technology supply system. Conflict minerals are used in consumer electronics but are obtained on the black market.

“There’s been a process of trying to source minerals from conflict-free mining sites,” Plumptre said. “We’d like to add bushmeat-free to the criteria.”

Plumptre added that if urgent measures aren’t taken, the Grauer’s gorilla in the Congo will vanish from many portions of its habitat over the course of the next five years, study co-author Stuart Nixon said in a statement, adding, “It’s vital that we act fast.”

[Photo by Brent Stirton/Getty Images for WWF-Canon]