And rather than using traditional weapons such as spears and arrows, poachers in the Congo today today are armed with far more lethal technologies -- rifles, shotguns, and cable snares.
The spike in road building and poaching has also led to the demise of other rainforest wildlife, such as Forest Elephants, which are killed for their valuable ivory tusks. In the last decade, the population of Forest Elephants has plummeted by about two-thirds, almost entirely because of its epic slaughter by illegal poachers.
Another nail in the coffin of the Grauer’s Gorillas are the intense conflicts that have plagued the Democratic Republic of Congo. In effect, the eastern DRC has often been in civil war since the mid-1990s.
Although Grauer’s Gorillas are legally protected in the DRC, law enforcement becomes almost impossible in such war-torn areas. Over the last two decades, more than 170 wildlife rangers have been murdered in the DRC, often by heavily-armed poachers.
For the Grauer’s Gorilla, it’s clear that urgent action is needed. Right now, armed militias control mining camps in the heart of its geographic range. Unless the rule of law can be established, continued poaching could drive the gorilla to extinction.
Conservationists and researchers are pushing hard for the establishment of two new protected areas -- Punia Gorilla Reserve and Itombwe Natural Reserve -- as well as reinforcement of Kahuzi-Biega National Park. These areas would make a huge difference to the gorillas, they say, if they are adequately staffed and protected.