SCENARIOS OF GORILLAS – THE LAST STAND
Scenarios developed on the role of infrastructure development on resource extraction and poaching (Wilkie et al., 2002) in 2002 suggested that great ape habitat and subse- quently populations in the greater Congo Basin could decline by to as little as 10% of their original range by 2032. Since then, however, reports and interviews conducted in the region, though difficult to quantify, suggest that poaching for bushmeat is substan- tially on the rise, so is the extent of logging and cutting for charcoal. Several areas are reporting lowered wildlife abundance, and poachers are even using bicycles to transport meat on trails and poor roads far beyond the main road system.
Partial gorilla, and full chimpanzee carcasses are sold for 20–30 USD on the markets. In some areas smoked gorilla meat has been sold for as little as 25 cents per pound (Raffaele, 1005; Ape Alliance, 2006). Estimates in the late 1990’ies were that around 4,5000 gorillas were killed annually (Marshall et al., 2000).
The estimates presented earlier around the town of Kindu sug- gested around 76,000 animals per year extracted from about 6000 km2 of forest, of which 225 were bonobo carcasses. A recent investigation by the Ape Alliance suggested that apes were now present at around 0.5–2% of all the bushmeat (Ape Alliance, 2006) – which would be equivalent to tens of thou- sands of chimpanzees, gorillas and bonobos ever year. Great uncertainty exists around these estimates, but it is clear that bushmeat is rising across large parts of the ten gorilla range states, even though great ape meat is still taboo in some areas.
Estimates based on modeling of habitat loss caused by agricul- tural expansion and logging around the growing road network in 2002, and projections onwards to 2050, suggested that less than 10% of the gorilla habitat would be left by 2032 (UNEP,
2002). However, these estimates did not take into account the rise in logging and widespread burning of charcoal initiated by militias in the national parks, the outbreaks of Ebola and the most likely rising bushmeat trade including significant great ape proportions as reported to feed a now much more rapidly rising population in the Greater Congo Basin (Wilkie and Car- penter, 1999; Fa et al., 2000; Brashares et al., 2004; Ryan and Bell, 2005; Poulsen et al., 2009). Neither did these former esti- mates take into account the extensive mining and logging, with a subsequent large labor force in need of bushmeat, especially in the logging camps (Brashares et al., 2004; Poulsen et al., 2009). Many of the professional bush meat hunters also benefit heavily from the logging “road” systems established by the loggers, to more easily penetrate and kill great apes, that become easy prey.
It is therefore highly likely, even with the uncertainty in abso- lute numbers, that the previous estimate given in 2002 sug- gesting a near reduction by 2032 to only 10% of the original range, was far too optimistic. This low may already be reached in a little decade from now, around 2020–2025, unless sub- stantial action is taken.