More than 125,000 western lowland gorillas have been discovered deep in the forests of the Republic of Congo, at least doubling their estimated population. Primatologists say the newly discovered gorilla population now puts their estimated numbers at between 175,000 and 225,000. Tendai Maphosa has more from VOA's London News Center.
Before a census conducted by the Wildlife Conservation Society, scientists believed fewer than 100,000 of the gorillas still existed. The news was greeted with excitement at the International Primatological Society Congress under way in Edinburgh, Scotland.
Harvard University's Richard Wrangham who is the president of the International Primatological Society tells VOA unexplored forests are still throwing up some pleasant surprises.
"One of the things that we increasingly appreciate is that we do not yet know everything; we are still describing large numbers of species, amazingly we have 43 new species since the year 2000," said Richard Wrangham.
Despite the good news scientists are concerned that monkeys, apes and lemurs face extinction around the world. Wrangham says loss of habitat is the greatest threat to the survival of the primates.
"That's partly from people just cutting down forest in order to be able to plant their crops but a lot of it is coming from big monocultures, a lot of it from logging, a lot of it from mining, so a lot of it from industrial actions as well," he said.
Wrangham adds that forest clearance for growing crops for biofuels is going to intensify the loss of land for the primates. Also, he says, primates are hunted for meat in parts of Asia and Africa where gorilla and chimpanzee meat are said to fetch high prices. While primates are endangered across the globe, scientists say the situation is worse in Asia. Wrangham explains that once again, loss of habitat is largely to blame.
"In Asia of the 120 taxa [types of animals] - almost three-quarters of them - 71 percent of them are vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered, they are just reduced to tiny populations and of course now the threat is some of these might get lost altogether," said Wrangham.
While the picture is gloomy, Wrangham says reducing deforestation, especially through the burning of forests for agriculture could go a long way towards reversing the extinction of some primates.