Sunday, 10 April 2016

Why Hope Remains for Saving the World's Largest Gorillas (Op-Ed)

by Andrew Plumptre, WCS; Stuart Nixon, Chester Zoo; Radar Nishuli, ICCN Kahuzi-Biega National Park | April 07, 2016 05:24pm ET

Andrew Plumptre is a senior conservationist in the Uganda Program at the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). Stuart Nixon is a conservationist at Chester Zoo in the U.K. who was working with Fauna & Flora International at the time these surveys were made. Radar Nishuli is chief park warden for the Kahuzi-Biega National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo working for the Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN). The authors contributed this article to Live Science's Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.

The Rwandan genocide in 1994 forced hundreds of thousands of refugees to flee to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), which two years later became embroiled in a calamitous civil war — an estimated five million lives were lost there over the following seven years. Alongside the human tragedy, the war has taken its toll on DRC's wildlife, as lawlessness, a heightened illegal bushmeat trade and increased deforestation took hold.

In 2011, the three institutions we worked for began a study to find out how those tragedies impacted the world's largest primate, the Grauer's gorilla. What we learned was shocking — a combination of illegal hunting, civil unrest and habitat loss from mining has led to a catastrophic collapse. Our research documents a devastating — nearly 80 percent — drop in the population of this gorilla subspecies, one of only four, from an estimated 17,000 individuals in 1995 to just 3,800 today. 

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