Few would debate all life is connected. Even with understanding of life’s connectivity, scientific data to make and defend savvy, action-based decisions on pivotal species preservation is critical. The world’s largest primate, the Grauer's gorilla, is caught in the conflict crossfires within the Democratic Republic of Congo and in dire need of a coordinated, executable, conservation-focused plan for species conservation, and the world’s leading conservation organizations have joined together to fight for the survival of the endangered eastern lowland gorilla (Gorilla beringei graueri).
Endangered and in need of monitoring
Classified as Endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s highly regarded Red List of Threatened Species, new surveys are vital to accurately assess Grauer’s gorilla conservation status and to identify the highest priority populations for focused conservation efforts and long-term monitoring. Dario Merlo of the Jane Goodall Institute indicates, “Conserving the remaining Grauer’s gorilla populations, as well as chimpanzees in the area, requires a dynamic approach and the participation of all areas of society from national government to local communities.”
Found only in the mountain and mid-altitude forests of the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, Grauer's gorilla is the largest of the four gorilla subspecies and the largest primate in the world. With their entire range consumed in conflict since 1996, important populations of Grauer’s and their chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes schweinfurthii) relatives have gone largely unmonitored. Different sources have offered varying population estimates since that time, but their true status is unknown.
Need for data
Since 2003, several attempts have been made to survey parts of the Grauer’s gorilla’s range. While results from these preliminary surveys found that gorillas still exist at several key sites, they also documented what appears to be a severe decline of 50-80% since the 1990s.
Stuart Nixon of Fauna & Flora International states, “Today, the remaining Grauer’s gorilla populations are small and localised and occur in regions of intense illegal mining activity and insecurity. Until we can complete the much-needed surveys, our best guess is that between 2,000 and 10,000 gorillas remain in around 14 isolated populations. Without a dedicated effort, the next 10 years will be marked by continuing local extinctions of this forgotten gorilla.”
Joint efforts of leading conservation organizations
The Jane Goodall Institute, Fauna & Flora International, the Wildlife Conservation Society, the Frankfurt Zoological Society, Conservation International, the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International, and local conservation organizations have partnered with the Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN), the Ministry of the Environment, Nature Conservation and Tourism, national military and police authorities, and local communities to support the implementation of a recently completed International Union for Conservation of Nature Conservation Action Plan for great apes in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
The action plan represents an important milestone in the conservation of great apes in the DRC, bringing together a large number of government and civilian stakeholders and a panel of ape conservation experts to identify essential actions to slow the decline of gorillas and chimpanzees in the region.
Having identified and agreed on the need for a coordinated and consolidated approach, the in-country teams are now working closely, each taking the lead on a component of the plan while supporting the others with their expertise. One of the key activities identified is the need to assess the true status of gorillas and chimpanzees in the region.
Andrew Plumptre of the Wildlife Conservation Society indicates, “The Wildlife Conservation Society, Fauna & Flora International and the Jane Goodall Institute have designed a new scientific approach to survey this endangered ape across its 80,000 square kilometer range with statistical help from the Max Planck Institute of Evolutionary Anthropology. Together we will be testing a new survey technique that will allow improved future monitoring of this species in a more cost-effective manner. This design will allow us to be more confident about the impacts of the civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo on Grauer’s gorilla numbers.”
Use of cutting edge technologies
Lilian Pintea of the Jane Goodall Institute states, “With support from Google, DigitalGlobe, and Esri, we are also applying innovative, cutting-edge mobile mapping, satellite imagery, and cloud-based technologies to equip survey teams with high-resolution base maps and enable local communities to contribute to ape monitoring efforts.”
Award-winning, Canadian geneticist and environmentalist David Suzuki indicates, “We all live downstream.” The world network is connected, and actions taken to preserve individual species influence the well-being of the entire environment. As the world’s leading conservation groups unite to save the world’s largest primate, responsibility for the modern environment’s world network falls on the shoulders of the human species. Surely, the loss of the endangered Grauer’s gorilla would be a painful rip in life’s vital and fragile web.
Find the take in this article to be helpful? National and Global Education materials as well as National and International Travel articles come from a husband and wife creative team, who travel extensively as photonaturalists and writers. One is an experienced scientist with a doctorate in Material Sciences and background in optics research. The other is former Vice President of GKE (Global Knowledge Exchange), who served as a US Web-based Education Commissioner during the Clinton administration, and was a former US National Tech&Learning Teacher of the Year.
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