x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Congo gorillas close to extinction

Illegal logging, mining and poaching for bushmeat are pushing gorillas and other great apes in Africa's Congo basin ever closer to extinction.

Gorillas are under threat in the park lands that straddle the intersecting borders of Rwanda, Uganda and Congo.
Gorillas are under threat in the park lands that straddle the intersecting borders of Rwanda, Uganda and Congo.

DOHA // Illegal logging, mining and poaching for bushmeat are pushing gorillas and other great apes in Africa's Congo basin ever closer to extinction, according to a report released yesterday. Earlier estimates that the natural habitat of gorillas could shrink by 90 per cent within two decades now seem overly optimistic, said the report, compiled jointly by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and international police organisation Interpol.

"With the current accelerated rate of poaching for bush meat and habitat loss, the gorilla of the Greater Congo Basin may now disappear from most of their present range within 10 to 15 years," said UNEP's Christian Nellemann. Outbreaks of Ebola fever have dimmed survival prospects even further, said the report, launched at a meeting of the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) in the Qatari capital, Doha.

The virus has killed thousands of great apes, including gorillas, with about 90 per cent of infected animals doomed to die. The report, The Last Stand of the Gorilla - Environmental Crime and Conflict in the Congo Basin, points its finger at rebel militias ensconced in the remote reaches of eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. Much of the environmental damage and hunting is linked to trade - worth hundreds of millions of dollars - in illegally extracted gold, diamonds and precious woods carried out by the militias to fund their conflict, it found.

Insecurity caused by the fighting, meanwhile, has driven hundreds of thousands of people into refugee camps, creating a demand for ape meat as food. Logging and mining camps with likely links to militias hire poachers to supply refugees and local markets in towns across the region with bush meat. "This is a tragedy for the great ape and one also for countless other species being impacted by this intensifying and all too often illegal trade," said Achim Steiner, UNEP's executive director.

More than 190 rangers have been killed in recent years in the Virunga National Park, most likely by militia members seeking unfettered access to the resources they exploit for revenue. Mountain gorillas are found only on the slopes of the Virungas on the borders of Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and fewer than 700 individuals remain in the wild, according to the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International.

* Agence France-Presse