August 5, 2008 / 4:13 AM / 9 years ago

Congo gorilla bonanza doubles population estimates

2 Min Read

<p>A baby western lowland gorilla silverback is seen in this undated handout photo.Thomas Breuer/Wildlife Conservation Society-Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology/Handout</p>

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A crowd of gorillas has survived in the northern part of the Republic of Congo -- so many that environmentalists can double population estimates, according to a report released on Tuesday.

A new census tallied more than 125,000 western lowland gorillas in an 18,000-square-mile (47,000-square-kilometer) area, the Wildlife Conservation Society reported.

Estimates from the 1980s had suggested fewer than 100,000 of the great apes had survived and many experts believed these numbers had been cut nearly in half by disease and hunting.

"These figures show that northern Republic of Congo contains the mother lode of gorillas," Steven Sanderson, president and chief executive officer of the Wildlife Conservation Society, said in a statement.

"It also shows that conservation in the Republic of Congo is working. This discovery should be a rallying cry for the world that we can protect other vulnerable and endangered species, whether they be gorillas in Africa, tigers in India, or lemurs in Madagascar."

<p>A baby western lowland gorilla silverback is seen in this undated handout photo. A crowd of gorillas has survived in the northern part of the Republic of Congo - so many that environmentalists can double population estimates, according to a report released on August 5, 2008.Thomas Breuer/Wildlife Conservation Society-Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology/Handout</p>

The group released its findings at a meeting of the International Primatological Society Congress in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Researchers counted nests made by gorillas in rainforests and isolated swamps. Gorillas make fresh nests every night.

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Western lowland gorillas are one of four recognized gorilla sub-species, which also include mountain gorillas, eastern lowland gorillas, and Cross River gorillas.

All are classified as "critically endangered" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature or IUCN, except eastern lowland gorillas, which are endangered.

Another report from the IUCN shows nearly half the world's monkeys and apes are facing a worsening threat of extinction because of deforestation and hunting for "bushmeat".

They found that 48 percent of the 634 known species and sub-species of primates, humankind's closest relatives such as chimpanzees, orangutans, gibbons and lemurs, were at risk of extinction.

Reporting by Maggie Fox; Editing by Julie Steenhuysen and Sandra Maler

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