Both Grauer's gorillas and local communities could be placed in even greater danger from warlords, militias and miners if President Donald Trump signs a draft presidential memorandum leaked to Reuters in early February.
The new policy would allow US companies to buy conflict minerals freely -- including gold, tin, tantalum, coltan and tungsten -- without public disclosure. It would likely increase mining activities in the Congo basin, bringing in more workers that will hunt bushmeat to survive.
Trump's memorandum would nullify the Conflict Mineral Rule for two years. The rule was passed with bipartisan support from Congress in 2010 as part of the Securities and Exchange Commission's Dodd Frank Act. At the time, it was opposed by business interests, while human rights groups and environmentalists supported it.
The regulation as it currently exists requires companies to disclose conflict minerals that come from the DRC or an adjoining country. When it was passed, then-SEC Chairman Mary L. Schapiro said, "In adopting this statute, Congress expressed its hope that the reporting requirements of the securities laws will help to curb the violence in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo."
The Trump memorandum's reasoning for the proposed rule suspension is that it has led to "some job loss" in the past. The administration did not respond to requests for comment from Mongabay.
African nations, however, immediately expressed concern: "This might ultimately lead to a generalized proliferation of terrorist groups, trans-boundary money laundering and illicit financial flows in the region," the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) told Reuters. The ICGLR includes 12 African member states.
Counting Grauer's Gorillas
In the 2016 survey -- the largest ever conducted for Grauer's gorillas -- park staff, local people and scientists led by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and Fauna & Flora International combed 7,450 square kilometers (nearly 3,000 square miles) to count the animals in the eastern part of the Congo, the only place they live. Researchers then used statistical analysis and computer modeling to estimate population size.
Their finding sparked international news coverage and a triage reaction from the conservation community.
Within months, Grauer's status was changed's status was changed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to the red-alert last stage before extinction in the wild: Critically Endangered.
Grauer's joined three other gorilla subspecies on the IUCN list: the western lowland (G. g. gorilla) and Cross River gorillas (G. g. diehli), along with the other and far more famous eastern gorilla subspecies, the mountain gorilla (G. b. beringei), which attracts tourists from around the globe who come to see them in the Virunga Mountains.
All gorillas are now Critically Endangered.
"Most people have never heard of [Grauer's gorillas], and [yet] they might be the first great ape to go extinct," says Sonya Kahlenberg, who directs the Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education Center (GRACE), the world's only sanctuary for orphaned Grauer's gorillas.
Back in 1994 when the Wildlife Conservation Society surveyed Grauer's gorillas (in what was then Zaire), researchers estimated a population of 17,000.
But then in April of 1994, the Hutu ethnic majority in neighboring Rwanda launched a murderous campaign against the Tutsi minority, a genocide that pushed some two million refugees across the border into Zaire and Uganda. Many took refuge in national parks and forests, and the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda and other militias set up operations there. Many survived on bushmeat, sparking what has become an ongoing gorilla "ecocide."
The DRC government distributed arms to local communities to fight back. Many people fled. Forests became a major casualty -- illegally logged both for fuel and the timber market. Hunting was rampant because of a deadly combination of hungry people and readily-available guns. Rangers and other law enforcement were forced to abandon national parks and other protected lands. The forests turned into slaughter grounds.
The stocky Grauer's gorilla became a popular target. They are easy to track, moving on the ground in groups, and the animals provides lots of meat per bullet: they're the world's largest primate, with an average male weighing in at about 400 pounds. The largest tower six-feet three inches and weigh 600 pounds.