Gorillas in Peril

Africa's Congo Basin is home to one of the world’s largest remaining rainforests and a diverse assemblage of wildlife, including gorillas. According to The Last Stand of the Gorilla - Environmental Crime and Conflict in the Congo Basin, a report published by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Basin gorillas are increasingly threatened by poaching, epidemics like Ebola hemorrhagic fever, and habitat loss and degradation due to agricultural expansion, logging, mining, and charcoal production. These threats, exacerbated by an increase in armed militias funded by illegal natural resources extraction interests, have led UNEP to warn that "most of the remaining gorilla populations could become locally extinct by as early as 2020-2025."

Poaching for bushmeat is a major cause of gorilla decline and has escalated in recent years to feed hungry militias, loggers, miners, and refugees. It is estimated that up to five million metric tons of bushmeat are traded annually in the five-nation Congo Basin region. Though surveys of bushmeat markets found ape carcasses to represent only 0.5 to 2 percent of the trade, because of their slow reproduction rate, even low mortality rates can devastate gorilla populations. The gorilla is not the only victim of these threats, as hundreds of rangers have lost their lives protecting the region’s wildlife, forests, and other resources.

There remains a chance for the gorillas if urgent actions are taken to address these threats. Expanded enforcement efforts, which include trans-boundary collaborations, improved training of enforcement personnel, and increased funding for enforcement and research, may be the only hope to reverse the plight of the Congo Basin gorillas.