The Grauer’s gorilla (also known as the eastern lowland gorilla) has been re-categorised on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species from Endangered to Critically Endangered following the submission of a scientific report to IUCN earlier this year by Fauna & Flora International (FFI) and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). This update puts all four gorilla subspecies in the Critically Endangered category.

The report revealed a shocking 77% decline in Grauer’s gorillas over the course of just one generation, from an estimated 17,000 individuals in 1995 to 3,800 today. According to the criteria used by IUCN, this rate of population decline is almost three times above that which qualifies a species to be listed as Critically Endangered – illustrating just what a precarious state these animals are in, and the urgent need to protect them.

The subspecies is restricted to eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and is severely threatened due to illegal hunting, civil unrest and habitat loss from mining and agriculture. FFI hopes that the change in conservation status will draw more attention to the plight of Grauer’s gorillas and ultimately result in more funding to implement the necessary conservation actions.

Juvenile Grauer's gorilla. Credit: Alison Mollon/FFI.

Juvenile Grauer’s gorilla. Credit: Alison Mollon/FFI.

Bio-monitoring patrols

Following the identification of priority sites where Grauer’s gorillas were present, FFI has been working with two community reserves – REGOMUKI (Réserve de Gorilles de Mukingiti & Kingombe) and REGOLU (Réserve de Gorilles de Lubutu) to recruit, train and equip 30 community rangers and launch monthly bio-monitoring patrols. The patrols monitor Grauer’s gorilla sub-family groups, record evidence of illegal activities, destroy snares and raise awareness among local communities. The system is reviewed on a regular basis to ensure effective monitoring and protection of these great apes.

This is the first time any systematic bio-monitoring patrols have been conducted in the two community reserves and is a great first step towards ensuring these reserves become effective at conserving biodiversity.

With more funding FFI could increase the number and frequency of the patrols to ensure full coverage of the reserves and effective protection, benefiting not just the gorillas but also the range of other species that share their habitat including the African elephant, eastern chimpanzee, okapi, bongo, buffalo, and leopard.