Illegal logging, the bushmeat trade, mining, the charcoal trade and a new strain of the Ebola virus could drive gorillas into extinction in central Africa in as little as 15 years, according to a new report from the U.N. and Interpol.
Three of the four gorilla subspecies are already considered critically endangered, and the fourth is listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Previous assessments by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) predicted that only 10 percent of gorilla habitat would remain undisturbed by 2032. UNEP now says that date was overly optimistic, and gorillas could lose their habitat entirely in as little as a decade. The danger to gorillas is "especially critical in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)," according to the report, due to ongoing conflicts and roaming militias, which are responsible for much for the illegal trade in the area.
The report (pdf) says that previous assessments neither predicted the incredible growth of illegal logging in the Congo Basin nor the increase in mining and weakening of taboos against eating gorilla meat.
The report makes several recommendations, including strengthening the role of the U.N. mission in the DRC to "secure full control of border crossings by any means necessary," which would greatly reduce the power of the militia groups that use illegal trade at border crossings to fund their activities.
The only slight bit of good news in the report is that mountain, or eastern, gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei), one of the rarest primate species, have not been hurt too badly by the militia activity due to their isolated habitat. But the park rangers who protect the mountain gorillas in Virunga National Park have recently reported a dramatic rise in the poaching of many other species, including elephants, buffalo and lions.
Photo: Cross River gorilla (Gorilla gorilla diehli), via Wikipedia