The world's population of critically endangered western lowland gorillas received a huge boost today when the Wildlife Conservation Society released a census showing massive numbers of these secretive great apes alive and well in the Republic of Congo.
The new census tallied more than 125,000 western lowland gorillas in two adjacent areas in the northern part of the country, covering an area of 18,000 square miles (47,000 square kilometers). Previous estimates from the 1980s placed the entire population of western lowland gorillas, which occur in seven Central African nations, at less than 100,000. Since then, however, scientists had believed that this number had at least halved, due to hunting and disease.
The census data were released at a press conference at the International Primatological Society Congress in Edinburgh, Scotland. The WCS scientists who worked on the census include Fiona Maisels, Richard Malonga, Hugo Rainey, Emma Stokes, and Samantha Strindberg.
The new census was the result of intensive field work carried out by the Bronx Zoo-based WCS and the Government of Republic of Congo, where researchers combed rainforests and isolated swamps to count gorilla "nests" to accurately estimate the population. Gorillas construct nests each night from leaves and branches for sleeping. Population densities ranged as high as eight individuals per square kilometer in one particularly rich forest patch, which ranks as among the highest gorilla densities ever recorded.
WCS says a combination of factors led to such high numbers of gorillas including: successful long-term conservation management of the Republic of Congo's protected areas; remoteness and inaccessibility of some of the key locations where the gorillas were found; and a food-rich habitat, particularly in some of the swamp forests and the herb-rich "Marantaceae" forests.
WCS has worked with the Government of Republic of Congo in the northe
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Wildlife Conservation Society