Eastern Gorilla on brink of extinction as Giant Panda makes comeback

The Eastern Gorilla, which is the world's largest primate, is on the brink of extinction as hunting continues to drive down its population, wildlife experts say. Giant Pandas, meanwhile, are experiencing a comeback as conservation efforts pay off.

The Eastern Gorilla is now considered critically endangered as its population has fallen below 5,000, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Four of six great ape species are now on the brink of extinction, and the other two are also under considerable threat.

"To see the Eastern gorilla – one of our closest cousins – slide towards extinction is truly distressing," said IUCN Director General Inger Andersen. "We live in a time of tremendous change and each IUCN Red List update makes us realize just how quickly the global extinction crisis is escalating."

The population of the Eastern Gorilla - which consists of two subspecies - has fallen by more than 70 percent over the last two decades, largely due to illegal hunting for bushmeat and the destruction of their habitat.

Grauer’s Gorilla, one of the Eastern Gorilla subspecies, has experienced a fall in population from 16,900 individuals in 1994 to an estimated 3,800 last year. The Mountain Gorilla, which is the other subspecies, has only 880 individuals remaining, though its population has slightly increased over the past year.

Of the six great ape species, the Eastern Gorilla, the Western Gorilla, the Bornean Orangutan and the Sumatran Orangutan are now all on the brink of extinction. The other two - the Chimpanzee and Bonobo - are listed as endangered.

Concern is also increasing for the zebra, which was once widespread and abundant but is being hunted for bushmeat and skins. The IUCN has moved the Plains Zebra from Least Concern to Near Threatened, noting that its population has declined by 24 percent over the past 14 years, falling from 660,000 to a current estimate of just over 500,000.

But Sunday's update was not all bad news.

Forest protection and reforestation efforts in China have sparked a population growth for the Giant Panda, which was previously listed as Endangered. Although it is now considered Vulnerable, IUCN notes that climate change is predicted to eliminate more than 35% of the Panda's bamboo habitat over the next 80 years.

Conservation actions have also paid off for the Tibetan Antelope, which has moved from Endangered to Near Threatened. The species - which is hunted for their soft and warm wool - saw its population decline from around 1 million in the 1980s to about 100,000 to 150,000 today.

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