August 5, 2008
Gorilla Discovery In Congo Doubles Population Estimates
Wildlife researchers announced on Tuesday the discovery of 125,000 western lowland gorillas deep in the forests of the Republic of Congo, nearly doubling the originally projected population of the critically endangered species.
The newly discovered gorillas were counted in two areas of the northern part of the country covering 18,000 square miles, the Wildlife Conservation Society said.
Estimates from the 1980s had suggested fewer than 100,000 of the great apes had survived and many experts believed these numbers had been cut nearly in half by disease and hunting.
"This is a very significant discovery because of the terrible decline in population of these magnificent creatures to Ebola and bush meat," said Emma Stokes, one of the research team.
Researchers counted nests made by gorillas in rainforests and isolated swamps. Gorillas make fresh nests every night.
"If these new census results are confirmed, they are incredibly important and exciting, the kind of good news we rarely find in the conservation of highly endangered animals," said Craig Stanford, professor of anthropology and biology at the University of Southern California.
Western lowland gorillas are one of four gorilla subspecies, which also include mountain gorillas, eastern lowland gorillas and Cross River gorillas. All are labeled either endangered or critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
Stokes said the new census important, but it does not mean gorilla numbers in the wild are now safe.
"The gorillas are still under threat from Ebola and hunting for bush meat. We must not become complacent about this. Ebola can wipe out thousands in a short period of time," she said.
Western lowland gorillas are one of four recognized gorilla sub-species, which also include mountain gorillas, eastern lowland gorillas, and Cross River gorillas.
All are classified as "critically endangered" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature or IUCN, except eastern lowland gorillas, which are endangered.
Conservation International, the Margot Marsh Biodiversity Foundation, Disney's Animal Kingdom and the IUCN funded the review. It is part of an examination of the state of the world's mammals due to be released at the 4th IUCN World Conservation Congress in Barcelona, Spain, in October.
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