Monday, December 15, 2008

United Nations declares 2009 'Year of the Gorilla'

Extinction Blog
— Plenty Magazine

United Nations declares 2009 'Year of the Gorilla'

Poaching, deforestation and the dreaded Ebola virus have taken a terrible toll on populations of the four remaining gorilla species. Now, in an effort to help save our primate cousins from extinction, the United Nations Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals has declared 2009 the "Year of the Gorilla.

"Three of the four species of gorilla are considered critically endangered, with just 700 mountain gorillas, 300 Cross River gorillas, and 5,000 eastern lowland gorillas left. The fourth species, the Western lowland gorilla, is critically endangered in some of its home countries, although the total population is much higher, at around 150,000.

All four species face declining populations, with threats ranging from the bushmeat trade, poaching for traditional medicine, habitat destruction from logging or the charcoal trade (an important source of fuel in Africa), and disease.

Luckily, the Year of the Gorilla is already off to a good start. This week, the 10 nations with gorilla populations agreed to examine the effectiveness of their anti-poaching laws and, hopefully, improve their implementation. Some of the money pledged for the Year of the Gorilla campaign will go toward educating judges so they understand the need to strictly enforce current anti-poaching laws.

Other actions to be funded by the YoG campaign include training park rangers, supporting scientific research, raising awareness of the gorillas' threats, and developing alternative sources of income (such as eco-tourism) for people living near gorilla populations. The UN hopes to raise more than $600,000 to support these efforts.
NOTE: Disease and 'gorilla trekking' A 'habituated' gorilla is accustomed to human contact and the most likely type of gorilla that people will see on a tour or 'gorilla trekking'.
DNA of humans and gorillas is such a close match that it is easy for a virus or bacteria to become 'zoonotic' ('bugs' tranfered from human to another animal species and visa-versa). Gorillas can become sick and die as a result of contacting a disease or 'sickness' from a human.
The 'common cold' of a human being can be passed onto a gorilla via human -- unfortunately, this is usually the result of an un-qualified guide &/or an unauthorized 'gorilla treking' tour. "Habituated' gorillas have even been seen with 'cold sores' (Herpes SimplexII) around their mouth.

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VOA News - Gorillas Find Sanctuary in Democratic Republic of Congo

VOA News - Gorillas Find Sanctuary in Democratic Republic of Congo

Gorillas Find Sanctuary in Democratic Republic of Congo
By Chuck Quirmbach Milwaukee, Wisconsin10 December 2008
Quirmbach Report - Download (MP3) Quirmbach Report - Listen (MP3)

As fighting between rebel and government forces continues in the Democratic Republic of Congo, animal conservation groups are expressing concern for some endangered species in the tropical jungles on Congo's eastern border. But the U.S. government and private donors are still working in Congo to create East Central Africa's first rescue center exclusively for gorillas, a species that has long faced threats to its survival. There are nearly one thousand gorillas in the world's zoos.

The rehabilitation center is
being built in the jungles of the
Democratic Republic of Congo's
Tayna reserve.

Many are like Femelle, a 46-year-old graying female at the zoo in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She's a western lowland gorilla, who was born in captivity. Zookeepers describe her as curious, attentive and quiet - a dominant elder who gets along with the other five gorillas in her group. Like Femelle, most of the gorillas in the world's zoos were born in captivity.

Femelle enjoys her favorite snack - grapes. Femelle even grunts her thanks to gorilla-keeper Claire Richard. "There is a lot to admire about the species. They're very laid-back. They're mellow. They don't argue except over food and who's got what bed for the night," Richard says. As far as she's concerned, she says, gorillas are what people should be.

"They're huge. I mean, look at this guy!" one man laughs, suggesting they could play professional American football. A woman standing near him considers more than their size.

"Their family groups are so important to them that they'll do anything to protect them…and looking at my family I would do the same thing…that's where the fascination comes in," she says. But a nearby display points out a sobering fact: in the wilds of Africa, gorillas are in danger of extinction. And it's not just the current fighting in the Democratic Republic of Congo that's a concern.

Gorillas pushed to the brink:

Cress is executive director of the Pan African Sanctuary Alliance, which coordinates sites in the wild to protect the gorilla. "It's habitat that's diminishing all the time," he says, "between the deforestation, the logging, the human encroachment …hunting. So many changes are occurring so fast in Africa that it's pushing gorillas really to the brink. "
There are preserves in Africa for endangered species, from cheetahs to gazelles, but Cress explains that something special was needed for gorillas in the eastern part of central Africa, a region that is home to two of the three subspecies of the great ape. Many of the gorillas confiscated by police or the military are infants whose parents have been killed by poachers, Cress says.
"We'll take the physical animal off the hands of the police officer or the military officer or whoever, and that was always a sticking point in the past. If you're going to confiscate, you suddenly have - physically in your hand - a baby animal that is probably sick and looks sickly, and you might get sick from it."When we step in, we say [to the police], 'We'll take that. Now you do you your job. We'll do our job, and let's move forward.'"

Dunia is a young Eastern lowland gorilla, now being held at a temporary quarantine facility in Rwanda; she will be transferred to the new center in 2009.

An orphaned Eastern lowland gorilla infant in the care of the Pan African Sanctuary Alliance.

To help conservationists move forward, an international coalition is building a center to rescue, rehabilitate and reintroduce these orphaned gorillas back into the wild. It is designed to care for up to 30 eastern lowland and mountain gorillas. The sanctuary will cover 150 hectares near Lubero in the northeastern corner of Congo. Cress says the location of the center is very important. "Gorillas are very difficult to rescue. They are not tough animals, not durable animals, and the stress of being hunted, captured and confiscated, they quite often die from the stress," he says. "So to have a rescue center close to where they are, we can get to them quicker and rehabilitate them more easily."

Two critically endangered mountain gorillas at PASA's temporary facility in Rwanda; there are only about 700 mountain gorillas left in the wild.

The center will cost about $300,000 to construct and another $100,000 a year - at least - to keep going. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Agency for International Development have put up some money, and so has The Walt Disney Company, which operates a number of animal parks in the United States and promotes conservation.
A nonprofit foundation named after the late gorilla expert Dian Fossey will help operate the new gorilla rescue center. The sanctuary is scheduled to open next year, barring a major worsening of the current conflict between the Democratic Republic of Congo government and rebel forces. The Fossey organization says for now, the center is hundreds of kilometers from the fighting. But some gorilla experts have postponed traveling to the site until at least January.

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