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Year of the Gorilla
19 December 2008

Gorillas, have always been a source of inspiration and fascination for humans. Their close kinship to humans makes them stand out in the animal kingdom and their to ability to communicate, display intelligence and express emotions has captivated scientists, conservationists and the wider world for many years.

Not only is the gorilla one of humankind’s closest relatives, but it also plays a key role in maintaining the ecosystem of their forest homes, which in turn regulates the global climate. A failure to save them from extinction would truly be an irreversible loss and a bad omen for humanity’s future prospects. Current conservation efforts need to be widened, as trends suggest that all great ape species could become extinct in the wild in the 21st century, and some even within a few decades.

Numerous threats endanger gorillas’ survival, namely: habitat loss and fragmentation; hunting and the bushmeat trade; diseases and epidemics; mining; and the effects of armed conflicts.

The UNEP Convention on Migratory Species (CMS), the UNEP/UNESCO Great Ape Survival Partnership (GRASP) and the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) have joined hands to declare 2009 the Year of the Gorilla. The Gorilla Organization will play a lead role in this united bid to draw attention to the plight of the world’s last remaining gorillas and focus conservation efforts towards gorilla protection.

Gorilla Organization trustee and conservationist, Ian Redmond, OBE, has been welcomed as the first Year of the Gorilla trustee. Asked to summarise his work, he says, “I am a naturalist by birth, a biologist by training, and a conservationist by necessity. But conservation for me isn’t just about saving species. On a larger scale, the planet needs us to save functioning eco-systems; on a smaller scale, we must also recognise that species are made up of individual animals. For me, it became personal when I had the privilege of getting to know individual wild animals in the wild... I can truthfully say that some of my best friends are gorillas, and I care passionately about them and the future of all life on Earth.”

For more information about the Year of the Gorilla and upcoming events, visit the official website.


Threats to the gorillas’ long--term survival

Hunting: The killing of gorillas for the bushmeat trade has a devastating impact on gorilla populations, especially where they live close to humans. The demand for bushmeat is growing, and hunters can often earn a higher income from selling bushmeat than from other legal economic activities. Studies have estimated that between one and five million tonnes of wild animal meat are extracted per year from the Congo Basin alone. The sale of live specimens and the use of body-parts in traditional medicine and magic are additional threats to gorillas. To capture one live infant, at least two adults are killed, and four out of five infants die before reaching skilled care. Thus to procure one live infant, 14 gorillas are likely to have died. The future prospects for gorillas are particularly grim, as they reproduce slowly and are already facing many other challenges. ??

Habitat loss, habitat fragmentation and degradation: Increasing deforestation as a result of excessive and illegal logging or burning of forests, the expansion of agriculture, the commercial charcoal trade, development of infrastructure such as forest roads and mining (e.g. for Coltan, an ore used in the production of cell-phones and other high-tech equipment) all contribute to habitat loss and fragmentation.

Diseases/Epidemics: Viral epidemics such as Ebola or human-transmitted diseases also play an important role. A 2006 study concluded that more than 5,000 gorillas may have died in outbreaks of the Ebola virus hemorrhagic fever in this study’s area alone. The total death toll is probably much higher. The researchers indicated that, in conjunction with the other threats, this creates "a recipe for rapid extinction", especially as Ebola can spread through gorilla populations which are so remote as to be safe from human threats.

Armed conflicts and civil war: Many of the gorilla range states have unstable political climates, with war and local conflicts making it hard to ensure effective implementation of conservation measures. The last few years have seen a rise in the killing of rare wildlife and environmental destruction in the region, as old conflicts are rekindled and new ones erupt. As chronic instability continues to plague the region, more than 500,000 Internally Displaced People and refugees have spread across the region, burning forest for agriculture or charcoal and hunting to sustain themselves. Rebel groups have occupied large swaths of the national parks and important forest ecosystems. Civil wars and political instability in more than half of the gorilla range states have not only caused untold human suffering, but have also reduced the effectiveness of international legal protection of these species. Following a decade of civil war, new estimates suggest that the number of Eastern Lowland Gorillas may have plummeted by 70 percent.

 

for further information or photographs contact:

David Hewitt, Communications Manager
The Gorilla Organization, 110 Gloucester Avenue, London, Nw1 8HX
Tel: 020 7916 4974
Mobile: 07801 971123
david@gorillas.org
www.gorillas.org