They Were Behind That Rock. All 125,000 of Them

Scientists find a honkin’ huge stash of western lowland gorillas, and wouldn’t you know, they were in the last place they looked:

A grueling survey of vast tracts of forest and swamp in the northern Congo Republic has revealed the presence of more than 125,000 western lowland gorillas, a rare example of abundance in a world of rapidly vanishing primate populations.

As recently as last year, this subspecies of the world’s largest primate was listed as critically endangered by international wildlife organizations because known populations — estimated at less than 100,000 in the 1980s — had been devastated by hunting and outbreaks of Ebola virus. The three other subspecies are either critically endangered or endangered.

The survey was conducted by the Wildlife Conservation Society and local researchers in largely unstudied terrain, including a swampy region nicknamed the “green abyss” by the first biologists to cross it. Dr. Steven E. Sanderson, the president of the society, marveled at the scope of what the survey revealed. “The message from our community is so often one of despair,” he said. “While we don’t want to relax our concern, it’s just great to discover that these animals are doing well.”

What does it say that my first reaction to reading this story about finding over a hundred thousand gorillas was “For God’s sake, why did you tell people where they are?” Because now I have images of entire battalions of hunters trekking down to this swamp to shoot these poor animals, and, I don’t know, turn their bones into aphrodisiacs or some other such quackery, or otherwise say “now that you’ve found so many of them, I should be able to shoot one in the head. You know, to preserve the balance of nature.” The balance of nature here being defined as “the number of these creatures that exist in the world, minus the one I want to shoot in the head.”

Why yes, indeed, I am cynical about the fundamental nature of man, thank you very much (not all men, just the ones who really like to kill things purely for fun). And while I’m certain that now we’ve discovered these gorillas, a high priority now is to keep this population healthy and thriving, there’s a not small part of me that believes, against all rationality, that the scientists here should have looked at each other and said, “Wow, this is a hell of a lot of gorillas, living here peacefully in this swamp. Now let’s walk right out of here and never speak of this again.”

(Photo by Kabir Bakie, taken from here, and licensed through Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.5)


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