20 years ago, before a civil war erupted in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the eastern lowland gorilla numbered around 17,00. But with the recent estimate, their population has fallen to a staggering 3,000 with their number still descending.
Experts warn that if appropriate measures aren't put in place, the majestic creatures could disappear in just five years. Even those who are familiar with the problem were taken by surprise when the tally was completed.
Experts 'Shock' At The Population Decline Of The Eastern Lowland Gorilla
"'Back of the envelope' calculations had predicted a 30 to 50 percent decrease," said Andrew Plumptre of the Wildlife Conservation Society and lead research of the gorilla count. "However, we received a major shock upon pulling together all the regional survey data: none of were prepared for such a large decrease."
Plumptre said that the main reason for the decline is attributed to artisanal mining sites run by armed militias operating in the forest, according to the Telegraph. These militias fund their illegal activities by mining DRC's rich minerals like gold and coltan, an essential component in manufacturing mobile phones.
As the region doesn't have enough bush meat to offer, the miners often prey on these endangered beasts as they are easy to kill. A single bullet could provide plenty of meat, said Plumptre.
Scientists are calling the DRC's government to take action upon this group whom they accused of feeding off the gorillas. The eastern lowland gorilla, also known as Grauer's gorilla, is the largest ape in the world weighing up to 300 kilograms and have longer limbs and hair compare to the western gorilla residing in the DRC, Gabon, Cameroon, and Nigeria.
Due to this recent finding, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature moved the eastern lowland gorilla from endangered to critically endangered, reported the Daily Mail. Experts also said that consumers have the responsibility of lobbying companies producing mobile phones, tablets and laptops to ensure that the minerals they're using are from a conflict-free area.
Armed Militias Forming After The Area Was Inundated By Refugees
DRC have seen the eastern gorilla's decline when the region was inundated with refugees fleeing Rwanda's genocide in the mid-'90s. This resulted in the area's security to be destabilized, as well as the start of armed groups forming and fighting over the region's rich natural resources. These armed groups were eventually involved in poaching activities and large-scale deforestation.
As of now, there's still no indication that a major effort is being done by the DRC's government as it's currently undergoing a constitutional crisis due to President Joseph Kabila wanting to run for a third term. While there are areas where foreign funding is being given to conservation parks, little attention has been shown down south which culminated in the disastrous decline of the eastern lowland gorilla's population.