A study released this week updates the estimated number of Grauer’s gorillas remaining on the planet. The study, led by the Wildlife Conservation Society, puts the estimated number of Grauer’s gorillas at 6,800, up from the previous estimate of 3,800 made in 2015.
“It is wonderful to learn that there are more Grauer’s gorillas than we previously thought. Unfortunately, this new number doesn’t reflect an actual increase in the population of these gorillas, which are considered critically endangered due to a precipitous drop in numbers over the past two decades,” says Dr. Tara Stoinski, CEO and chief scientific officer of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, which was not involved in the study. “Rather, this new number reflects new and expanded survey data that were used to estimated Grauer’s populations.”
The authors emphasize that despite the revised numbers, Grauer’s gorillas have experienced a dramatic decline in population size over the past few decades, particularly in the Kahuzi-Biega National Park in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. They estimate that the population has declined by roughly 60% in a single gorilla generation, which is about 20 years.
The study also found that gorillas living on community-protected land are faring better than those in the national parks, underscoring the need for forest protection and management.
“We are pleased to see data showing that gorillas residing in community-owned forests are doing well,” says Stoinski. “This survey supports our approach in the DRC, which has been to focus on strengthening the network of community-owned forests in partnership with local landowners.”
Earlier this year the Fossey Fund announced that the government of the DRC had formally recognized three new community managed forest concessions, collectively called the Nkuba Conservation Area (NCA). The Fossey Fund has entered into a 25-year agreement to help community members in the now 1,580 square kilometer NCA to develop and implement sustainable plans for managing these forests, which are home to an estimated 200 Grauer’s gorillas, along with at least six other globally threatened species of mammals.
“This is one of the most extensive surveys ever of this great ape, carried out under very difficult circumstances. It is a tribute to the courage and dedication of the Congolese biologists who took part, often at great risk from the ongoing insecurity,” says the study’s lead author Dr. Andrew Plumptre, who conducted the research while with WCS.