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World's Largest Great Ape Now Critically Endangered -- Who are the Grauer's Gorillas?

Sep 05, 2016 06:00 PM EDT

The Wildlife Conservation Society announced Sunday at the IUCN World Conservation Congress in Hawaii that the world's largest great ape, the Grauer's gorilla (Gorilla beringei graueri), is now considered as "Critically Endangered" on IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

According to an updated report on the total number of the species existing in the wild, the Grauer's gorilla population has dramatically decreased over the past two decades. Now, the current count for the said species is 3,800, a 77 percent decrease from its former number of 16,900 gorillas in 1994.

In a post on the IUCN website, IUCN DIrector General Inger Andersen said, "To see the Eastern gorilla – one of our closest cousins – slide towards extinction is truly distressing."

“We live in a time of tremendous change and each IUCN Red List update makes us realize just how quickly the global extinction crisis is escalating. Conservation action does work and we have increasing evidence of it. It is our responsibility to enhance our efforts to turn the tide and protect the future of our planet," he added.

NPR notes that human activity is mainly to blame for the gorilla decline such as poaching and illegal hunting. Disease and climate chage also pose as threats to the Grauer gorillas' future. National Geographic notes that hunting for bushmeat is a widely practiced activity in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where the gorillas live.

The meat of Grauer's gorillas serve as a source of food for rebels in the deep mountains, where there are no source of agriculture, making this animals indirect victims of the country's armed struggle.

“Overall, this study has startling news – based on data gathered in very difficult and challenging circumstances. However, the positive news from Kahuzi-Biega National Park is a beacon of hope. It demonstrates that if we continue to invest in conservation of this gorilla, we can make a difference. This is a wake-up call that demands more investment to support conservation in the field if we are to save this species," said Tim Tear, Executive Director of the WCS Africa Program, via WCS Newsroom.

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