Want to save gorillas? Enforce laws

provided by Wildlife Conservation Society

he most immediate threat to western gorillas is not habitat destruction, as previously believed, but poaching and lack of law enforcement, said a group of experts from the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society and other organizations. The group, which met this June in Leipzig, Germany to discuss western gorilla issues, concluded that simple enforcement of existing laws to stop poaching is the key to ensuring the immediate survival of these primates. The meeting was sponsored by the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology and the US Fish and Wildlife Service's Great Ape Conservation Fund. Other participants included the World Wildlife Fund and ECOFAC.

    According to participants, large-scale commercial poaching has reached crisis levels, even in national parks, due to the rapid expansion of logging, civil unrest, and lack of management. Present conservation activities are not enough, said the group, adding that without truly effective law enforcement, western gorillas face a grave future. Hunting gorillas is illegal in all countries where they are found, including Cameroon, Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Nigeria, and Republic of Congo.

    The group, which included more than 30 gorilla conservation experts from around the world, also said that past international investments have not sufficiently focused on law enforcement, which is currently needed in not only protected areas and logging concessions, but also cities, which are a major market for gorilla meat. Further, they said that new funding mechanisms such as trust funds need to be established to provide sustained monies for law enforcement and better management of existing protected areas in gorilla range-countries.

    “What's immediately needed if we are to halt the decimation of the western gorilla is nothing short of a massive global response. Helping to mobilize this must be our first priority,” said Richard Parnell, a WCS conservationist.

    While western gorillas are far more common than mountain gorillas made famous by George Schaller, Diane Fossey and others, population estimates are sketchy at best. Most scientists agree that estimates of 100,000 individuals made in the 1990s are probably too high.