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In the face of deforestation and pollution, civil war and a rampant bushmeat trade, the gorillas of the Congo Basin, an area nearly 1.5 million square miles in size, have persisted—and in some limited cases even increased their populations.
According to a new report released by INTERPOL and the UNEP, however, the situation is grimmer than ever and, according to their estimates, gorillas could be extinct in the region within 10 to 15 years if dramatic action is not taken.Titled The Last Stand of the Gorilla: Environmental Crime and Conflict in the Congo Baisn, the report highlights several key threats to the species and argues that previous UNEP estimates—that predicted 10 percent of gorilla ranges would remain in 2020—were too optimistic.
Christian Nellemann, the lead author of the latest report, explained:
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.
In addition to the already staggering list of threats to gorillas, the report adds pressures from agriculture, legal and illegal mining operations, and the unsettling spread of Ebola and hemorrhagic fever. Militia operations in the region, however, were identified as the major impediment to gorilla survival.
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The Role of Militias
Militias, the report claims, have managed to gain control of key border crossings in the region, allowing them to facilitate—and profit from—the trade in illegal timber, charcoal, and minerals. In addition, these groups fuel the trade in illegal bushmeat, an unfortunate industry that has emerged as a means to feed refugees displaced by internal conflict.
Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme, commented:
Ultimately it is...a tragedy for the people living in the communities and countries concerned. These natural assets are their assets: ones underpinning lives and livelihoods for millions of people. In short it is environmental crime and theft by the few and the powerful at the expense of the poor and the vulnerable
Limiting these activities, the report explains, would not only protect the gorillas but serve as a peacemaking and stabilizing force in the region. This, of course, is easier said than done. In the last few years, more than 190 rangers in the Virunga National Park have been killed in the line of duty.
Continuing to support these noble efforts as well as enhancing support for patrolling and controlling borders are some of the suggestions the report makes but, as Founder of The Last Great Ape Organization Ofir Drori commented, "what we want to see is action."
Read more about gorillas:
Mountain Gorillas Killings Fueled by Charcoal Trade
Endangered Gorillas Become Dinner for Rebels in the Congo
Mountain Gorillas Caught in the Middle of DR Congo Fighting, Park Rangers Forced to Flee
Commercial Ape Bushmeat Trade Twice as Bad as Subsistence Hunting: New Study Shows
"Planet of the Apes" Discovered in Republic of Congo