In the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, war and insecurity over the past two decades have had a devastating impact on Grauer's gorillas, a subspecies of the Eastern gorilla. Recent WCS surveys show declines of 80–90%. Among gorillas, they are not alone.
Beyond insecurity, the main threats to these animals are hunting, especially for bushmeat, habitat loss, and disease, namely Ebola. Also, gorillas' very slow reproductive rate means that if an adult is killed, it takes over a decade to replace him or her as a breeding individual.
Work with range states, with local people, and our partners to maximize our conservation reach and impact for gorillas.
Our strategies toward this include:
- Working with other NGOs and range states to develop IUCN Action Plans for almost all great ape species.
- Monitoring existing populations.
- Working with local authorities to improve wildlife protection to halt the killing of gorillas for meat.
- Implementing education programs to inform both adults and children about gorillas' vulnerability to hunting.
- To combat Ebola, we have set up a surveillance network with local people over a vast area of the Republic of Congo, and created a laboratory in the capital city where rapid processing of wildlife samples can be carried out.
- To combat habitat loss, we are working with national governments and with logging concessions to improve land use planning.
WCS works in seven African countries critical to the survival of gorillas.
WCS is a world leader in monitoring wildlife populations, active in several important long-term protected areas in the Republic of Congo, such as the Nouabale-Ndoki National Park. We've shown that the north of this country contains perhaps half or more of the world’s total gorilla population. This is within less than 10% of their total range.
What's at Stake?
Gorillas are hugely important in maintaining the diversity of Central Africa's forests. They disperse tree species whose seeds are too big for other animals to swallow (apart from elephants). Without this service, the trees would be unable to reproduce and the forests would be irreversibly changed.
On Our Strategies
Combat Habitat Loss
New protected areas have been created specifically to protect gorillas in both Cameroon and Congo in the last few years, as a result of WCS surveys, which showed the importance of these areas for the animals. Agricultural zoning also helps, steering a planned oil palm plantation to areas of degraded land rather than primary rainforest. Habitats known to harbor important gorilla populations within a large logging concessions can be set aside as conservation areas, as well.
In addition to the monitoring work described, WCS has helped make groundbreaking steps in the methods of studying the virus. In 2014, a group of international scientists led by WCS researchers published a paper on the use of fecal samples to identify populations likely to have been exposed to it. This could potentially change the way the Ebola virus is studied and improve our understanding of the virus' distribution in space and time—a matter of great importance to both the human health and conservation communities.
Combat Illegal Killing
Our work on the ground includes the implementation of SMART (the Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool), which tracks the success of anti-poaching efforts and helps improve the way they're carried out.
Kahuzi-Biega National Park, in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, is home to most of the world's remaining Grauer's gorillas. Due to armed militia activity in the region, it has been difficult for conservationists to gather information about these critically endangered great apes. Surveys conducted by WCS and the Congolese wildlife authority show that where park staff have the resources to conduct frequent patrols, Grauer's gorilla populations do recover.
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