The remaining gorillas are struggling to survive in eastern Congo

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The population of Grauer’s gorilla, the most widespread subspecies has dramatically decreased from 18,000 to 3800 individuals in 20 years.

In tropical forests of eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the Natural Park qualification is meaningless. The green mountains of the Virunga National Park extending over 7,900 km2 in a densely populated area and are home to one of the species among the most endangered of the continent: Grauer’s gorillas , one of the four subspecies, which is also the most widespread of this great ape.

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TO GO WITH AFP STORY BY MARC JOURDIER An access to the Virunga National Park. AFP PHOTO / JUNIOR D. KANNAH

But Virunga park staff, who composed with very limited resources, can ensure a fragmented surveillance of the area and the gorillas.  A report published April 4, 2016 by the Wildlife Conservation Society, Fauna & Flora International and the Institute Congolese conservation of nature shows that between 1995 and 2015, the population of Grauer’s gorillas has increased from 17,000 to about 3,800 individuals.

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Patrick Karabaranga, a warden at the Virunga National Park, sits with an orphaned mountain gorilla. He adds that the ICCN does not currently have access to the gorilla sector of the park due to the M23 rebellion. AFP PHOTO/PHIL MOORE

Multiple factors threaten the existence of the ape population.

“The Grauer’s gorilla is facing a major crisis. The agricultural and livestock expansion, high levels of subsistence hunting and bushmeat extraction, exotic pet trade, the widespread mining, and socio-economic depression for more than a decade of civil war exert a huge pressure on resources and wildlife of the forests of the DRC. Since 1996, the entire range of the Grauer’s gorilla was consumed by the conflict, ” say the authors of the study.

In Radar Nishuli, the current director of Virunga park and co-author of the report said, “it is urgent.”

“What we have observed on the ground is extremely worrying.We urgently need a strong and targeted response, with training, additional staff for eco-guards to combat poaching more effectively. We have also set up an intelligence network, and support the daily monitoring of gorilla families to ensure their safety. It must also integrate our action leaders who hold the traditional power in the region and educate their communities to stop hunting these apes, ” he said.

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Scene of fighting between armed militias since 1996, the Virunga park attracts virtually no tourists, unlike the Rwandan side national park on the other side of the border are also present gorillas. Visitors pay 370 euros for example to spend an hour to closely observe the gorillas in the Volcanoes Park in Rwanda. In its latest report on the Virunga Park , Unesco also note that  “promoting a localized and controlled tourism could increase the income and contribute to regular financing for the maintenance of good.”

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Orphaned mountain gorilla looking out from a hammock in a              compound at a sanctuary at the Virunga National Park                  AFP PHOTO / MICHELE SIBILONI

If the decline of the species continues at the current rate – about 5% of the population of Grauer’s gorillas are killed each year – the authors of the study believe that this ape has almost disappeared in the wild to within five years.

Camille Belsoeur

 

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