The Rapid Decline of Our Closest Relatives

The biggest survey yet of western lowland gorilla and chimpanzee populations brings good and bad news. There are more of the animals than previously thought, but their numbers are dropping rapidly due to a variety of factors. Will these creatures, which are so similar to us, be here in the generations to come?

The survey was completed in 2013 by a group of over 50 conservationists and scientists working for different conservation organizations. They collected and analyzed data from the countries inhabited by the apes: Congo, Gabon, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Angola and Equatorial Guinea. The conservationists recorded the number of primates in an area and used a computer to predict the populations in areas that they didn't directly study. The survey was, overall, the most widespread and complete study of western lowland gorilla and chimpanzee populations yet.

The results of the survey worried the scientists. Although there was about a third more western lowland gorillas and a tenth more chimpanzees than what they had thought, the survey found that their numbers are dropping quickly. The gorilla populations are decreasing by nearly 3% a year. At this rate, half the gorilla population could be gone by around 2040. Plus, about 80% of both populations were found in unprotected areas, making them in more danger than the rest. All and all, gorillas are in a dire situation.

There are multiple reasons why these two primate species are endangered. Both are impacted by hunting, the bushmeat trade, logging, and other factors. The populations were also affected by the Ebola virus, which both species can contract. Western lowland gorillas are classified as “critically endangered”, while chimpanzees are “endangered”. In order to protect both species, there needs to be better management of currently protected areas, as well as more protected areas in general. The animals are important because they keep forests healthy and provide ecotourism which is good for the economy. Perhaps more importantly, however, “'They're our nearest relative', she [Fiona Maisels, a conservation scientist] said. 'It's a kind of moral responsibility.'”

The 2013 survey brought bad news for gorillas and chimpanzees. With all the harm that us humans are doing to them, we could do irreparable damage if we aren't careful. Although a larger population than formerly though gives some hope, the numbers of chimpanzees and gorillas are dropping fast. If we do nothing, it is possible that future generations of humans will not inhabit the world with these close relatives.

[Source: The Washington Post ]