Gorillas, the largest of the great apes, are under renewed threat across the Congo Basin from Nigeria to the Albertine Rift: poaching for bushmeat, loss of habitat due to agricul- tural expansion, degradation of habitat from logging, mining and charcoal production are amongst these threats, in addition to natural epidemics such as ebola and the new risk of diseases passed from humans to gorillas.
Alarmingly, parts of the region are experiencing intensified ex- ploitation and logging of its forest, in some cases even within protected areas. In the DRC, many of these activities are con- trolled by militias illegally extracting natural resources such as gold, tin and coltan as well as producing charcoal for local com- munities, urban areas, camps for people displaced by fighting and sometimes even to communities across the border. These militias are located, motivated, armed and financed directly by this illegal extraction of minerals, timber and charcoal. A net- work of intermediaries including multinational companies or their subsidiaries, neighboring countries and corrupt officials, are involved in the transportation and procurement of resourc- es which stem from areas controlled by militia, or for which no legal exploitation permission exists.
As part of the extraction process, militias in North and South Kivu of the DRC are estimated to make approximately 4 mil- lion USD annually from taxes on charcoal. Combined with road taxes on minerals, timber and other goods in addition to controlling border control posts, the militias are making 14–50 million USD annually on road taxes alone. Companies working with or buying indirectly from fronts for the militias are buying minerals, charcoal and timber amounting to 2–10 times the official exports. These are valued at several hundred million USD from the direct sale to companies operating through Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda, among others, and imported to the EU, the Middle East, China and other coun- tries in Asia, with financiers also in the United States. Sev- eral peace agreements have included the removal of vehicle check points previously enforced by park rangers to reduce
this trade; this has facilitated the transport, illegal taxing and smuggling of resources across the borders. And this, in turn, has ensured continued financing of militias to obtain arms and encouraged them in securing resource hotspots and driv- ing populations into IDP (internally displaced people) camps. Many people are forced by militias to work in the mines and charcoal kilns.
As many of these camps and militia groups rely heavily on bushmeat, many of the national parks in the region have lost up to 80% of their larger mammals. The illegal provisioning of these miners, rebels and forced workers with bushmeat in- cludes meat from gorillas, chimpanzees, elephants and other endangered species. Surveys across the region indicate that great apes, including eastern and western lowland gorillas, chimpanzees and bonobos comprise 0.5 to 2 per cent of the cadavers found in bushmeat markets. This has a disproportion- ately large impact on ape populations because of their slow rate of reproduction. Gorillas have also been shot in Virunga in re- taliation for attempts by park rangers to stop the charcoal trade and its resulting habitat destruction.
Previous projections in 2002 by UNEP suggested that gorilla habitat free of human impact would be reduced to only 10% of their original range by 2032 as a result of continued infra- structure development, associated agricultural expansion and logging. However, these estimates did not factor in the current extent of illegal logging, production of charcoal in protected ar- eas, the extent of the bushmeat trade, the rapidly rising human population density, and the spread of the deadly contagious dis-