UNITED NATIONS, March 25 (UPI) -- Gorillas could disappear from much of Africa's Congo River Basin within 15 years without urgent action to protect them, a United Nations and police report says.
"Illegal logging, mining, charcoal production and increased demand for bush meat, of which an increasing proportion is ape meat," are killing off gorillas, the largest of the living primates, the U.N. Environment Program and International Criminal Police Organization, or Interpol, report said.
Christian Nellemann, a U.N. Environment Program senior officer who led the report, said, "With the current and accelerated rate of poaching for bush meat and habitat loss, the gorillas of the Greater Congo Basin may now disappear from most of their present range within 10 to 15 years."
Projections in 2002 that only 10 percent of the original gorilla ranges would remain by 2030 "were too optimistic" given intense illegal habitat destruction and poaching of the ground-dwelling plant-eaters that live in central Africa's forests, the report said.
Outbreaks of the Ebola hemorrhagic fever virus are adding to concerns, it said.
"These epidemics have killed thousands of great apes, including gorillas, and by some estimates up to 90 percent of animals infected by the virus will die."
Militias in the Democratic Republic of Congo are behind much of the illegal gorilla trade, worth an estimated several hundred million dollars a year, the report said.
Buyers of poached gorillas are "in Asia and beyond," it said.
"This is a tragedy for the great apes and one also for countless other species being impacted by this intensifying and all-too-often illegal trade," U.N. Environment Program Executive Director Achim Steiner said in a statement.
"Ultimately it is also a tragedy for the people living in the communities and countries concerned," he said.