Conservation action sees fortunes improve for gorilla and whales

Conservation efforts have helped mountain gorillas take a step back from the brink of extinction, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has said.

Mountain gorillas in Rwanda's Volcanoes National Park. Picture: Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund via AP
Mountain gorillas in Rwanda's Volcanoes National Park. Picture: Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund via AP

The subspecies of gorilla, which is found in two areas in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Uganda, has moved from critically endangered to endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Anti-poaching patrols, removal of snares and work with communities who live around the protected areas where mountain gorillas are found have helped boost numbers from an estimated 680 in 2008 to more than 1,000 in 2018.

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Dr Liz Williamson of the IUCN primate specialist group said it was “fantastic news” the mountain gorillas are increasing in number, but warned they were still endangered and conservation action must continue.

There is also good news for the fin whale, which has seen its status improve from endangered to the less severe category of “vulnerable” to extinction in the latest update of the Red List.

Its population has roughly doubled globally since the 1970s in the wake of international bans on commercial whaling in the north Pacific and the southern hemisphere since 1976 and reductions in catches in the north Atlantic since 1990, the IUCN said.

The western sub-population of the grey whale has also improved, moving from critically endangered to endangered.

And Rothschild’s giraffe, now only found in small areas in Kenya and Uganda, has seen its status improve from vulnerable to near threatened as a ban on hunting, reintroductions and other conservation efforts helped boost populations.

But the update to the Red List reveals that overfishing is causing declines in important fish species in parts of the developing world, with 13 per cent of the world’s grouper species and 9 per cent of Lake Malawi fish now threatened with extinction.

Illegal logging is threatening the survival of the Vene tree, a globally important timber tree which is found in west and central Africa and which is now listed as endangered as booming demand for its wood drives felling.

The Titan arum from Sumatra, nicknamed the corpse flower for its stench, has been assessed for the first time and is listed as endangered.

It has seen an estimated population decline of 50 per cent in 150 years due to logging and conversion of forest to palm oil plantations.