The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) reported on Sunday, Sept. 4, that the Grauer's gorilla (Gorilla beringei graueri) has now been moved to the "critically endangered" category on its red list as populations of the animal in the wild continue to dwindle because of poaching and habitat loss.

In a survey released in April, wildlife experts said that the number of wild Grauer's gorillas in the Democratic Republic of Congo is now down to only 3,800 individual apes over the past 20 years. The great apes were estimated to be 16,900 during the 1990s.

This represents a 77 percent reduction in their population in a single generation, which far exceeds the minimum drop necessary to declare a species to be critically endangered.

Andrew Plumptre, an animal conservation expert from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) which conducted the survey, said they have suspected a decline in the gorillas' population because of all the insecurity they have observed in the region. However, they were not aware of just how much the animals' numbers have dropped.

At the rate of the gorilla population's collapse, Plumptre said the great apes are now inching closer and closer to being wiped out.

Humans play a critical role in driving the Grauer's gorillas to their potential extinction. According to the IUCN, the three main threats to the animals' safety are poaching, habitat loss and the continued civil unrest in the African region. The spread of various diseases and the impacts of climate change also add to pressures on the gorillas' survival in the wild.

The group said that laborers working at mines are the ones responsible for much of the illegal hunting of the great apes.

Placing both the eastern and western species of the Grauer's gorilla as well as all of its subspecies on the IUCN's critically endangered means that the animal is one step closer to becoming extinct in the wild.

Plumptre welcomed the IUCN's announcement on Sunday, stating that the move could very well help efforts in improving the status of the Grauer's gorilla.

He said that declaring the great ape as critically endangered will help raise the public's awareness on the great ape and the dangers that they are facing.

Plumptre pointed out that the plight of the Grauer's gorilla in Africa is often overlooked even though it is considered to be the largest great ape in the world.

Populations of the Grauer's gorilla can be found in fractured habitats in eastern regions of the Democratic Republic of Congo. These include the Usala Forest, the Maiko National Park, the Kahuzi-Biega National Park, Tayna Nature Reserve and the Kisimba-Ikobo Nature Reserve.

The gorillas are known to eat a diet consisting of leaves, bark, herbs, vines and lianas. They can also consume insects, seasonal fruits and bamboo.

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