Conservation Status of the Western Gorillas

Will our children live in a world without gorillas?
The vast majority of the world’s gorillas live in the forests of central Africa, not in the mountains of east Africa. Results reported in Leipzig, Germany, at the recent gathering of world’s gorilla experts show that western gorillas are much more diverse then previously recognized. The very survival of these western gorillas is now threatened by a wave of commercial poaching, the experts warn. With immediate investment in law enforcement this decline could be reversed.

Although habitat destruction does contribute to the decline, large-scale commercial poaching threatens to drive western gorillas to extinction. Hunting of gorillas is illegal in all range states, but even in national parks gorillas are not safe. Poaching has reached crisis levels due to the rapid expansion of logging, civil unrest and lack of management capacity. Present conservation activities have not succeeded and the experts consensus is that without truly effective law enforcement western gorillas may go extinct in our lifetimes.

Past international investments have not sufficiently focused on building law enforcement capacity. The world community needs to help range countries enforce existing national and international laws. Although law enforcement has received little attention in central Africa, experience with mountain gorillas shows that it is the foundation for gorilla conservation. Law enforcement should take place at all levels from protected areas, to logging concessions, to cities. In the longer term gorilla conservation should focus on the establishment of a network of effectively managed protected areas funded through sustainable mechanisms such as trust funds. A fund to forever protect the habitat of these amazing animals would cost only about 3 dollars for each person in the developed world.