NEW YORK (June 16, 2016) – A new report released by WCS and partners shows how to successfully stem the decline for an imperiled gorilla sub-species hanging on in war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Against an unprecedented decline in the population of the world’s largest Great Ape, one site has managed an increase in numbers of Grauer’s gorillas (Gorilla beringei graueri) in one part of Kahuzi-Biega National Park in eastern DRC. The population at the site rose from 181 to 213 over a five-year period. A total of 17 gorilla groups and 8 solitary males were found during the census, which was conducted by members of WCS and the Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN).
WCS says the sector, called Tshivanga, is a success thanks to significant conservation resources, boots-on-the-ground efforts, along with an adequate ICCN presence. It is is the only site where Grauer’s gorilla numbers are known to be increasing.
“The results are very encouraging given the dire situation of the Grauer’s gorilla across its range and show that where there is sufficient investment this great ape can be saved from extinction, said Richard Tshombe WCS DRC Country Director. “This shows what can be done if resources and political will are there to conserve gorillas.”
Said Radar Nishuli, Director of Kahuzi-Biega National Park: “Gorilla numbers in the Tshivanga sector of Kahuzi-Biega National Park have increased for three main reasons: regular monitoring of gorilla groups, strategically targeting conservation efforts, and having a well trained and equipped surveillance team. Our results show that with appropriate human, financial, and material resources, we can still save the Grauer’s gorilla.”
While the park is considered to be the most important protected area for the subspecies, conservationists warn that other sectors of the Kahuzi Biega are not faring as well, and more needs to be done to halt the Grauer’s gorilla decline.
Said Andrew Kirkby, Project manager of WCS’s Grauer’s Gorilla Conservation Project. “Our surveys elsewhere in the park have shown drastic declines in gorilla numbers as a result of hunting for bushmeat around mining camps.”
The report comes just months after a catastrophic decline of Grauer’s gorillas – the largest gorilla subspecies – was revealed. In April, WCS and partners reported that the entire Grauer’s gorilla subspecies had plummeted some 77 percent from 17,000 to just 3,800 individuals over the last two decades due to a combination of illegal hunting around mining sites and settlements, prior civil unrest, and habitat loss. Artisanal mining for coltan – a key mineral used in the manufacture of cell phones and other electronics – is widespread in the region and places pressure on great apes as mine sites are often located deep into the forest in gorilla habitat.
WCS says the most urgent need for the gorillas is to demilitarize artisanal mines within and around the edge of KBNP to reduce bushmeat hunting and enable the ICCN to enforce conservation laws effectively inside the entire park. Support from the DRC government is necessary to achieve this, particularly supporting efforts to make armed groups exit protected areas. Community awareness and support of gorilla conservation should be built to establish social norms against gorilla hunting. Sustainable and revenue-generating livelihoods should also be promoted to reduce the reliance of communities on the park natural resources.
The United States Agency for International Development (CARPE/USAID) and the German bank KfW supported this census. UNESCO supported other censuses in Kahuzi Biega National Park.