Largest ever study of gorillas and chimpanzees, finds more than expected, but their future remains in peril with worrying declines and 80 per cent living in unprotected areas | WWF
Largest ever study of gorillas and chimpanzees, finds more than expected, but their future remains in peril with worrying declines and 80 per cent living in unprotected areas

Posted on 25 April 2018

Today, results from the largest ever research study of gorillas and chimpanzees in Western Equatorial Africa has been released with population numbers higher than we first thought. The survey found there’s a third more western lowland gorillas and one tenth more central chimpanzees than previous estimates. Dedicated researchers walked more than 8,700 kilometers (5,400 miles)—a distance from New York to London—to gather these results.
Today, results from the largest ever research study of gorillas and chimpanzees in Western Equatorial Africa has been released with population numbers higher than we first thought. The survey found there’s a third more western lowland gorillas and one tenth more central chimpanzees than previous estimates. Dedicated researchers walked more than 8,700 kilometers (5,400 miles)—a distance from New York to London—to gather these results.
 
Yet this is far from a celebration; the good comes hand in hand with bad news…
 
The vast majority of these great apes (80 per cent) are living outside of protected areas, and gorilla populations are declining at almost 3 per cent every year – meaning despite finding more individuals they remain critically endangered. Sadly we lost almost a fifth of the population between the years of  2005-2013 alone. Great apes have extremely slow reproductive rates making even slight declines potentially very damaging to overall populations.
 
Poaching, illegal logging and habitat destruction are the main threats facing great apes and efforts must be increased to stop these. Critically the results confirmed that in areas where wildlife rangers were present – particularly in protected areas with intact forests – both gorillas and chimpanzees could thrive, further proving that protection is key.
 
Of all the 14 living great apes, western lowland gorillas and central chimpanzees have the largest remaining populations. This is certainly good news. However, their future cannot be taken for granted.
 
Their homes are also home to natural resources which are facing huge local and global demand. Many of these areas are still unprotected putting the wildlife that live there in grave danger. The next few years will prove critical as we try and secure the protection so desperately needed to safeguard a future for this beloved species as well as its habitat and the local communities that depend on it.
 
You can help gorillas and chimpanzees by supporting WWF and getting involved and active in the conversation through writing to local governments and spreading the word on social media.
The newly published paper was written by 54 co-authors from several organizations and government agencies, including WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society), WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature), Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Jane Goodall Institute, Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) – Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE), Lincoln Park Zoo, and the Universities of Stirling and Washington, and involved the protected area authorities of five countries. Researchers collected field data during foot surveys carried out over a 10-year period across the range of both western lowland gorillas (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) and central chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes troglodytes) – surveying an area of 192,000 square kilometers (72,000 square miles – equivalent to the size of the state of Washington) and including some of the most remote forests on the African continent.
Western lowland gorilla (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) female 'Malui' walking through a cloud of butterflies
© naturepl.com / Anup Shah / WWF
western lowland gorilla
© © naturepl.com / Fiona Rogers / WWF