afrol News, 24 March - New research reveals that gorilla populations in the Congo Basin are diminishing much faster than previously supposed. Poaching and illegal logging may cause gorilla extinction by the mid-2020s, new data show.
The pessimistic outlook is presented today in a report by the UN's environment agency UNEP and the international police organisation INTERPOL. Together, they have mapped the habitats of the great apes and the illegal trade in timber and minerals in Central Africa. This illegal trade is key to understand the great habitat loss of gorillas.
"Gorillas may have largely disappeared from large parts of the Greater Congo Basin by the mid 2020s unless urgent action is taken to safeguard habitats and counter poaching," the new data had shown. Previous UNEP projections, made in 2002, suggested that only 10 percent of the original ranges would remain by 2030.
"These estimates now appear too optimistic given the intensification of pressures including illegal logging, mining, charcoal production and increased demand for bushmeat, of which an increasing proportion is ape meat," according to UNEP. Further, outbreaks of Ebola fever were adding to concerns. These had killed thousands of great apes including gorillas and by some estimates up to 90 percent of animals infected will die.
The situation was said to be "especially critical in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)," where a great deal of the escalating damage is linked with militias operating in the region. The report says militias in the eastern part of the DRC are behind much of the illegal trade, which may be worth several hundred million US dollars a year.
It says that smuggled or illegally-harvested minerals such as diamonds, gold and coltan along with timber from the DRC ends up crossing borders, passing through middle men and companies before being shipped onto countries in Asia, the European Union and the Gulf. The export of timber and minerals is estimated to be two to ten times the officially recorded level, and is claimed to be handled by front companies in Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi.
The illegal trade is in part due to the militias being in control of border crossings which, along with demanding road tax payments, may be generating between US$ 14 mi
Female gorilla and infant at the Bwindi National Park, Uganda
llion and US$ 50 million annually. This in turn helps fund their military activities. Meanwhile, the insecurity in the region has driven hundreds of thousands of people into refugee camps. Logging and mining camps are hiring poachers to supply refugees and markets in towns across the region with bushmeat.
According to INTERPOL's David Higgins, "the gorillas are yet another victim of the contempt shown by organised criminal gangs for national and international laws aimed at defending wildlife. The law enforcement response must be internationally coordinated, strong and united, and INTERPOL is uniquely placed to facilitate this."
Christian Nellemann, a senior UNEP officer who was lead author of the 2002 report, was surprised to learn about the new speed of destruction of gorilla habitats in Central Africa. "With the current and accelerated rate of poaching for bushmeat and habitat loss, the gorillas of the Greater Congo Basin may now disappear from most of their present range within ten to fifteen years," said Mr Nellemann.
"We are observing a decline in wildlife across many parts of the region, and also side-effects on poaching outside the region and on poaching for ivory and rhino horn, often involving poachers and smugglers operating from the Congo Basin, Uganda, Burundi and Rwanda, to buyers in Asia and beyond," he added.
The report does, however, contain some positive news. A new and as yet unpublished survey in one area of the eastern DRC, in the centre of the conflict zone, has discovered 750 critically endangered Eastern lowland gorillas.
The other good news is that the mountain gorillas in the Virungas, an area which is shared by Rwanda, Uganda and DR Congo, have survived during several periods of instability. This was said to be the result of trans-boundary collaboration among the three countries, including better law enforcement and benefit sharing with the local communities. But it was also due to the efforts of courageous Virunga park rangers, of which 190 were killed in recent years in the line of duty.
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