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The fight to save the eastern lowland gorilla

By Sharon Collins
CNN Headline News

Environmental Issues

(CNN) -- The past decade has been devastating for eastern lowland gorillas. Their numbers are down 70 percent, and conservationists are spreading the alarm globally while acting locally.

One major reason for the decline is mining. Coltan, a mineral used in manufacturing cell phones, is mined in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, where the gorillas live. Gold is also mined in the area.

Logging, clear-cutting of forests for farms and civil strife have added to the gorillas' population decline.

And as resources become more strained, gorillas are being hunted and eaten.

The Congo is home to almost all of the eastern lowland gorillas in the world. The numbers don't look promising. In 1994, there were about 17,000 of the apes. Today that number is down to 5,000.

The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International is looking to save the gorillas on a local level. They're working with local tribal chiefs to set up nature reserves for the apes.

It's one way to get the people of the Congo to become more involved with the region's conservation, especially in light of the fact that they struggling just to get food on the table. Clare Richardson, director of the Gorilla Fund, has seen it firsthand.

"It's very difficult to have people in Africa concerned with conservation and the loss of biodiversity and the loss of this massive areas of rain forest when they're desperately trying to make it from one day to the next," she said.

The Gorilla Fund is spending close to $3 million to help set up these local reserves. Part of the money will be used to pay the villagers who work there in an effort to spark their economy and better their living conditions.

Richardson says it will be impossible to save the eastern lowland gorillas without a commitment from the people who live there.

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