Apparently, the punkey breeding program is working. A whole slew of gorillas were found, nearly doubling the population by some estimates. It’s only a matter of time until they have another generation that will double and double and double some more! From New Scientist:

The discovery of a previously unknown gorilla population in the vast forests of northern Congo brings the total number of animals to a mammoth 125,000 – double that of previous estimates – and should make even the most pessimistic conservation biologist smile.

Hey mom! We’re taking over the world!!

The numbers of western lowland gorillas living across 47,000 square kilometers of dense forestland were thought to have plummeted from 100,000 to half that number since the 1980s.

Just last year, the threat from the deadly Ebola virus and indiscriminate bushmeat hunters prompted the International Union for the Conservation of Nature to add the apes to their critically endangered list.

The results of the census by the Wildlife Conservation Society and local government researchers were announced today at a meeting of the International Primatological Society in Edinburgh, UK.

Researchers undertook intensive fieldwork to count the number of nests – the leafy beds the secretive apes sleep in at night. They found as many as eight individuals per square kilometer, one of the highest gorilla densities every recorded.

Don’t pick your nose…the news is here!

It may seem bizarre that no-one had realized quite how many gorillas there were in the region, says WCS biologist Emma Stokes, who helped coordinate the study. The difficulty in counting the animals is partly to blame, she explains, and even detecting the nests can be tricky in such densely forested areas.

Not only that, “the old number was a crude estimate”, which relied heavily on extrapolation rather than direct observation, she says. Advances in census methodologies, coupled with the enormous scale and significant funding of the survey, are what make this study far more accurate.

The census is particularly positive news in the context of an IUCN evaluation, also presented at the Edinburgh meeting, which warns that 50% of the world’s primates are in danger of extinction because their habitats are being destroyed and many animals are illegally hunted as food.

The gorillas do have “an enormous advantage of remoteness”, which confers a natural protection from poachers and disease epidemics – some survey areas were 80 km away from roads and villages.

But their location won’t protect them forever, cautions Stokes, because most of the gorillas live outside protected areas.

A region called Ntokou-Pikounda, in the middle of the forested area, was given national park status by the government in 2006, but this was a largely empty gesture since officials did nothing to enforce its protection.

Given that the park is home to 73,000 of the gorillas in the study area, ensuring this region is properly protected should be the first step in saving the apes, says Stokes. This will mean stationing people to catch illegal logging trucks and establishing mobile anti-poaching teams in the area.

Because Ebola epidemics can quickly reduce as much as 95% of a population, understanding how the virus is transmitted to the animals, and developing vaccines – as well as clever ways of getting the vaccines to the animals fast – will be crucial to protecting the animals, says Stokes.