Washington, US.- A first-of-its-kind intensive count of western Africa gorillas found far more of the apes than conservationists previously thought.
Maybe not for long: The same study found a 19 percent plunge in that gorilla population in just eight years.
Researchers spent a decade trudging through an area of forest that’s about the size of the state of Washington — or Ireland and Scotland combined — looking for lowland gorillas, chimpanzees and nests in what scientists said is the most accurate count for the apes in this primary region where they live, according to a study in Wednesday’s journal Science Advances.
They put the 2013 population at 362,000 gorillas. That’s considerably more than the 150,000-to-250,000 estimate from the organization that determines how endangered species are, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.
But it’s also significantly less than the 2005 assessment of almost 450,000 gorillas from the same research team.
The population still qualifies for the IUCN critically endangered red list because the animals are on pace to lose more than 80 percent of their population in three gorilla generations, which is a key threshold, said study author Fiona Maisels of the Wildlife Conservation Society and the University of Stirling in Scotland.
At the current rate, 80 percent or more of the gorillas will be gone by end of the century, said University of Illinois primate expert Paul Garber, who wasn’t part of the study but praised it. He said in the five years since the 2013 count, the loss has likely accelerated.
“That is a doomsday scenario, and we need to reverse this immediately,” Garber said in an email.