Western Lowland Gorilla Conservation
Western Lowland gorillas, one of the two subspecies of Western Gorilla, are Critically Endangered (IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, 2010) and thought to number at most around 100,000 individuals. The subspecies ranges across many of the countries of the Western Congo basin, with the largest populations inhabiting the forests of Gabon and the Republic of Congo.
These populations, however, are in severe decline as a result of commercial hunting for bushmeat (wild meat), the loss of their forest habitat and disease. Between 1983 and 2000, the entire great ape population in Gabon is estimated to have halved, largely as a result of the Ebola virus and commercial hunting.
These pressures are exacerbated by a lack of economic incentives to preserve forest areas and the wildlife that lives there. Logging, agriculture, commercial hunting for the bushmeat trade and extractive industries such as oil and mining all threaten the forests of the region.
In an effort to reduce pressures on forest wildlife in the Congo Basin, a number of conservation measures have been tried, ranging from establishing new protected areas to developing methods that give economic value to forests which don't also threaten wildlife.
These methods include ideas like low-impact, sustainable tourism which ZSL piloted at the Mikongo conservation centre in Gabon, working with park authorities and local communities to provide financial benefits from the park and its wildlife.
People who live in and around forests often rely on the forest for their livelihoods, so providing realistic alternatives is essential to take pressure off wildlife and ZSL is testing and implementing an, 'economic alternatives to bushmeat' programme in Equatorial Guinea .
Whilst loss of the gorillas' forest habitat is recognised as a threat, with almost 40% of the forests in the region allocated to logging for valuable timber these areas will have a big role to play in conserving the Congo Basin's biodiversity. ZSL works in Cameroon as part of it's Wildlife Wood Project helping timber companies optimise the management of their forests to minimise impacts on forest species.
Elsewhere in western gorilla range, our lack of knowledge of the status and threats to the species are stopping us from taking effective conservation action. One such area is the Djoua-Zadie-Mwagna area of North East Gabon were ZSL is taking a landscape wide approach to conserving species like the western lowland gorilla.
ZSL believes that conservation activities must take into account the needs of people if we are to succeed in addressing the range of pressures facing the Western Lowland gorilla and its forest habitat and secure a future for it and the remarkable biodiversity of the Congo Basin.
Read more about ZSL's work to conserve the critically endangered western lowland gorilla by downloading ZSL Gorilla projects infosheet (2.3 MB)