The Eastern lowland gorilla, the world’s greatest ape, has suffered a “catastrophic decline” in the restive Democratic Republic of Congo, blamed on mining for minerals used in mobile phones.
Scientists said the numbers in the wild have dwindled three quarters in 20 years, to just 3,800 from 17,000 before civil war first broke out in 1996, and fear that without rapid intervention, the majestic creatures could disappear altogether in the next five years.
Andrew Plumptre, of the Wildlife Conservation Society and the lead researcher on the gorilla count, said while they knew numbers had declined, the results came as a shock. “‘Back of the envelope’ calculations had predicted a 30-50 per cent decrease,” he said. “However, we received a major shock upon pulling together all the regional survey data: none of us were prepared for such a large decrease.”
He said the main reason appeared to be a surge in artisanal mining sites controlled by armed militias deep in the forest, making a living from the DRC’s rich reserves of minerals such as gold and coltan, an essential ingredient in the manufacture of mobile phones.
Scientists have called on the DRC’s government – at present embroiled in a constitutional crisis because of President Joseph Kabila’s wish to run for a third term – to crack down on armed groups in the region whom they accuse of feeding off the gorillas.
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