HONOLULU — The world's largest living primate has been listed as critically endangered, making four of the six great ape species only one step away from extinction, according to a report released Sunday at the World Conservation Congress in Hawaii.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature, or IUCN, cited illegal hunting in downgrading the status of the eastern gorilla on its Red List of Endangered Species. The list contains more than 80,000 species, and almost 24,000 of those are threatened with extinction.
"To see the eastern gorilla — one of our closest cousins — slide toward extinction is truly distressing," Inger Andersen, IUCN director general, said in a statement. "Conservation action does work and we have increasing evidence of it. It is our responsibility to enhance our efforts to turn the tide and protect the future of our planet."
The organization said an estimated 5,000 eastern gorillas remain in the wild, a decline of 70 percent over the past 20 years.
Of all the great ape species — the eastern gorilla, western gorilla, Bornean orangutan, Sumatran orangutan, chimpanzee and bonobo — only the chimpanzee and bonobo are not considered critically endangered. But they are listed as endangered.
For the gorillas of the Congo, where the majority of the population lives, conservation will be a struggle because of political instability, said primatologist Russell Mittermeier, executive vice chairman of the Conservation International environmental group and chairman of IUCN's primates specialist group.
"There are no simple solutions right now," Mittermeier said in an email to the Associated Press.