2050: the last gorilla

World's greatest ape extinct within decades, warns UN

A A A

The gorilla is threatened with extinction by the mid-21st century if poaching and destruction of its habitat continue at the current rate, the United Nations has warned.

Within a decade, three of the four sub-species of the great ape could be wiped out, it says. "Many populations are faced with imminent extinction," said Matthew Woods, of the UN-run Great Apes Survival Project. "It is incredibly serious."

Conservationists have added a new danger to the ever-present threats from hunting, logging and mining: the fallout from elections to be held at the end of this month in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the vast central African nation which is probably home to more gorillas than any other country.

One sub-species, the eastern lowland, or Grauer's gorilla, lives entirely within its borders. Two others, the mountain gorilla - famous from Dian Fossey's studies and David Attenborough's filmed encounter with them - and the western lowland gorilla, are also found in the DRC.

War has raged within eastern Congo for more than a decade, killing more than four million people in the bloodiest conflict since the First World War. Even now, three years after peace deals were signed, 1,200 people die each day from the continuing violence and war-related diseases. Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced by the fighting as militia groups rampage through the countryside, raping and pillaging in towns and villages.

One side effect of the conflict has been the devastating impact on the region's gorillas. Refugees unable to grow enough crops to feed themselves have been forced to kill gorillas and other large mammals in order to survive. Conservationists have not only been powerless to protect the animals, with surveys of the remaining gorilla population and other preservation work proving impossible, but several workers have been killed after they were caught up in militia fighting.

The result, in the case of the Grauer's sub-species, is that its numbers are believed to have plummeted by 90 per cent over the past 10 years to just 2,000. Some conservationists believe that the situation is even worse, but violence has prevented them confirming their suspicions.

The most threatened sub-species of all is the Cross River gorilla, which inhabits a tiny forested area of west Africa, but the key to the survival of the rest is thought to be the DRC election, the first in the war-torn country for more than 40 years.

Conservationists believe that only a successful outcome to the election can curb the violence and instability, particularly in the country's eastern districts of Ituri, North Kivu and South Kivu, that have decimated gorilla populations.

"The insecurity threatens the animals and the conservation workers, and it prevents tourism, which is seen by many as the salvation of the apes in this area," said Ian Redmond, chief consultant at the Great Apes Survival Project.

Although there are some fears that an end to the fighting could bring an increase in logging, which would further eat away at the gorillas' natural habitat, the risks of continued anarchy are considered to be greater.

In a region where vast swathes of the population live on less than £1 a day, great apes have proved to be an enormous economic asset.

In Uganda, President Yoweri Museveni has claimed that more than half of the country's foreign exchange earnings are from tourism, in which mountain gorillas are the star attraction. A recent United Nations Environment Programme report on the state of Africa's environment estimated that gorilla tourism brings in roughly $20m (£11m) a year to Uganda and Rwanda, where Western tourists are being lured back with some success after the horrors of the 1994 genocide. There is no immediate prospect, however, of persuading tourists to visit the Democratic Republic of Congo, despite the spectacular scenery of its eastern border country, which is home to mountain and Grauer's gorillas. But Mr Redmond added that the election at least offered some prospect of stability, "and the return to those days of gorilla tourism".

People who had lived through the crisis in DRC remembered what it was like when there were queues of tourists, the conservationist added. "There is a lot of potential... It all depends on political stability. Hopefully there will be enough great apes left."

Species at risk: Only thousands remain in all

Grauer's Gorilla

Also known as eastern lowland gorilla. Forms eastern group with mountain gorilla.

Distribution: Eastern DRC forests. Now inhabits just 13 per cent of its historic range.

How vulnerable: Its habitat is chronically war-torn, and Grauer's gorillas have suffered worst from hunting for "bush meat".

How many left: Estimates vary wildly, from as many as 16,000 to 2,000 or fewer.

Mountain Gorilla

The best-known sub-species, thanks to David Attenborough and the movie Gorillas in the Mist, based on the story of the scientist Dian Fossey.

Distribution: Virunga range of volcanoes on Uganda-Rwanda-DRC border and Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda.

How vulnerable: Susceptible to a number of threats, from uncontrolled hunting and war to disease, destruction of forest habitat and capture for the illegal pet trade. Considered critically endangered.

How many left: A little over 700.

Western Lowland Gorilla

The most numerous and widespread. All the gorillas in zoos are from this sub-species.

Distribution: Thick rainforests of Gabon and five neighbouring countries. Now inhabits just over half of its former range.

How vulnerable: Suffers from disease and at the hands of poachers. In areas hard hit by the Ebola virus, over 90 per cent have died.

How many left: Estimate of 94,000, though may be higher due to difficulty of surveying habitat.

Cross River Gorilla

The other sub-species in the western group. Differs from western lowland gorilla in skull and tooth dimensions.

Distribution: Eight small and isolated populations, separated by densely settled farmlands, in forested hills on the Nigeria-Cameroon border.

How vulnerable: Rated critically endangered.

How many left: About 200.

Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol
art'Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' followed hoax reports artist had been arrested and unveiled
Life and Style
tech

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

News
peopleJust weeks after he created dress for Alamuddin-Clooney wedding
Life and Style
A street vendor in Mexico City sells Dorilocos, which are topped with carrot, jimaca, cucumber, peanuts, pork rinds, spices and hot sauce
food + drink

Trend which requires crisps, a fork and a strong stomach is sweeping Mexico's streets

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
George Lucas poses with a group of Star Wars-inspired Disney characters at Disney's Hollywood Studios in 2010
films

George Lucas criticises the major Hollywood film studios

Sport
football West Brom vs Man Utd match report: Blind grabs point, but away form a problem for Van Gaal
Arts and Entertainment
Bloom Time: Mira Sorvino
tvMira Sorvino on leaving movie roles for 'The Intruders'
Arts and Entertainment
Leonardo DiCaprio talks during the press conference for the film
films

Film follows park rangers in the Congo

Arts and Entertainment
Gotham is coming to UK shores this autumn
tvGotham, episode 2, review
News
i100
Sport
Adel Taraabt in action for QPR against West Ham earlier this month
footballQPR boss says midfielder is 'not fit to play football'
News
First woman: Valentina Tereshkova
peopleNASA guinea pig Kate Greene thinks it might fly
Voices
Chris Grayling, Justice Secretary: 'There are pressures which we are facing but there is not a crisis'
voices

Does Chris Grayling realise what a vague concept he is dealing with?

Life and Style
The charity Sands reports that 11 babies are stillborn everyday in the UK
lifeEleven babies are stillborn every day in the UK, yet no one speaks about this silent tragedy
News
Blackpool is expected to become one of the first places to introduce the Government’s controversial new Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs)
news

Parties threaten resort's image as a family destination

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

History Teacher

£60 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Liverpool: Job opportunities for Seconda...

** Female PE Teacher Urgently Required In Liverpool **

£120 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Liverpool: Job opportunities for Secon...

** Cover Supervisors Urgently Required In Knowsley **

£60 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Liverpool: Job opportunities for Seconda...

Java developer - (Intershop Enfinity)

£40000 - £50000 per annum + benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: Java Developer...

Day In a Page

Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album