September 16, 2009
About two western lowland gorillas are killed and sold in local markets as bushmeat each week in the region of Kouilou in Congo, according to an undercover investigation. It may not sound like much, but it represents about 4 percent of the local population each month, and half of the population each year. And there are likely only about 200 gorillas left in the area, the BBC reports.
[The conservation group Endangered Species International (ESI)] began its investigation by going undercover, talking to sellers and traders at food markets in Pointe Noire, the second largest city in [Congo].
Over the course of a year, investigators visited the markets twice a month, recording the amount of bushmeat for sale.
“Gorilla meat is sold pre-cut and smoked for about $6 per ‘hand-sized’ piece. Actual gorilla hands are also available,” says Mr Pierre Fidenci, president of [ESI].
“Over time we got the confidence of the sellers and traders. They gave us the origin of the gorilla meat and it all comes from a single region.”
ESI estimates that about 300 gorillas end up as bushmeat in Congo each year.
The Western lowland gorilla is the species of gorilla we’re probably all most familiar with, as they are the ones that are usually found in zoos. (Actually, they’re a subspecies of Gorilla gorilla, the other being the even rarer Cross River gorilla.) And though the 2007 discovery of a previously undiscovered population of the animals in northern Congo was promising, the species is still endangered, threatened by habitat destruction through logging and by outbreaks of the Ebola virus, in addition to commercial hunting.
Mr Fidenci hopes to go back to Kouilou to find out more about the remaining gorillas living there and to find a way to conserve them.
“We intend to stop the killing in the area by providing alternative income to locals and working with hunters not against them. We hope to conduct conservation awareness with educational programs with other NGOs and to create a gorilla nature reserve.”…
Currently, little is done in the country to prevent the poaching of bushmeat, Mr Fidenci says.
“Enforcement does not exist. Even though there are existing laws which protect endangered wildlife against such activities.”
Saving Kouilou’s gorillas may be a small goal for conservationists, but this species could use all the help it can get.
August 6, 2009
An orangutan will produce an alarm call known as a “kiss squeak” when it encounters a predator like a snake or a human. The kiss squeak is produced by drawing a sharp intake of air through pursed lips (see this video for an example). Sometimes, though, an orangutan will take a branch, strip the leaves from it, hold the leaves in front of its mouth and then make the sound. Why?
Researchers studying the wild Bornean organutan (Pongo pygmaeus wurmbii) recorded kiss squeaks made by the animals near a research station. (Their study appears in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.) They found that the leaves lowered the maximum frequency of the sound (i.e., made it deeper). Also, smaller orangutans were more likely to use the leaves.
The orangutans appear to be using the leaves to make themselves sound like they are bigger than they really are. The scientists say that this is the first case of an animal using a tool to manipulate sound.
November 25, 2008
One of the first Smithsonian articles I worked on was last year’s Guerrillas in Their Midst, about the endangered mountain gorillas of Rwanda and Congo. Though the animals in Rwanda appeared to be doing well and supporting a thriving tourism business, the story in Virunga National Park in Congo was not so pleasant.
In July 2007, four members of the Rugendo gorilla family, which had been visited by our reporter, were killed. A total of ten gorillas were killed that year in the park. Then in January, we reported that the rangers who protected the park had been barred from accessing the gorillas because of the conflict between the Congolese army and rebel forces led by ex-general Laurent Nkunda. Of course, the rangers weren’t the only ones affected by the fighting; 800,000 people were forced from their homes, according to the United Nations.
Fighting flared again in Congo in recent weeks, displacing another 200,000 people. Virunga’s park rangers, who had been able to return to some of the park in recent months, were forced to flee into the forests when their headquarters were overtaken by rebel troops.
But now some promising news: 120 rangers returned to the park on Friday after the chief warden, Emmanuel de Merode, negotiated their safe return. As he told the Environmental News Service, “Rangers are neutral in this conflict, and it is right that they should be allowed to do their job.”
Though the rangers now plan to start a long-neglected survey of the park’s gorilla population, cleaning up will have to be a priority. Their facilities have been abandoned for the last 14 months and much of their supplies and equipment were stolen in the conflict. It may be a long while until we know how many of the gorillas survived.