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Large Number of Endangered Gorillas Alive and Well in Republic of Congo

Wildlife researchers received a huge moral boost this month when a new census found a massive number of endangered gorillas alive and well in the Republic of Congo. U.S. and Congolese scientists discovered these secretive great apes in a previously unexplored swamp forest in the country's north. Victoria Cavaliere reports from VOA's New York Bureau that there are efforts to expand conservation programs in the region to protect the primates against logging and hunting.

The New York based Wildlife Conservation Society said its census found more than 125,000 western lowland gorillas in two adjacent areas of Congo's north. Previous estimates had placed the entire population of lowland gorillas at about 100,000 throughout seven Central African nations. Lowland gorillas, one of four subspecies of endangered gorillas, had been devastated in recent decades by hunting and outbreaks of the Ebola virus.

The new survey covered an area of 47,000 square kilometers. U.S. and Congolese researchers carefully combed the dense swamp forest using gps and compasses and counting the gorillas nests to approximate their numbers.

Dr. James Deutsch, the Africa Director at the Wildlife Conservation Society, said the number of gorillas has not expanded in recent decades. Instead, this was the first time researchers gained access to one of the most remote regions of northern Congo.

"The reason these populations are doing well is that this is one of only two large remaining blocks of rainforest in the whole world," said James Deutsch. "Of course, most gorillas, most chimpanzees, mot primates aren't so lucky to live in areas with such a huge, unbroken expanse of habitat left for them."

Now, researchers and the Congolese government are turning their attention to keeping this gorillas and the habitat in which they live safe from the growing pressure of logging, mineral mining and poaching.

Deutsch commended the government in Congo for its conservation management initiatives - including the creation of national parks and protected areas.

He says the government has also agreed to create a new national park in Ntokou-Pikounda - the vast swamp forest home to some 73,000 lowland gorillas.

"We have the formal commitment from the President Sassou-Nguesso to work with us to create this as a protected area, probably as a national park,over the coming years," he said. "As the funding becomes available to do that, and as international plans move forward for thinking about how country's can be rewarded for protecting their forests and not promoting climate change."

Deutsch says all countries of Central Africa have worked toward the goal of setting aside at least 10 percent of their forested areas as protected areas.