Washington, August 6 : Wildlife researchers have discovered 125,000 western lowland gorillas deep in the forests of the Republic of Congo, leading to a major increase in the animal's estimated population.
According to a report in Discovery News, the Wildlife Conservation Society, based at New York's Bronx Zoo, and the Republic of Congo carried out the census of the primates, which counted the newly discovered gorillas in two areas of the northern part of the country covering 18,000 square miles.
This new census was released as primatologists in Edinburgh, Scotland warned that nearly half of the world's 634 types of primates are in danger of becoming extinct due to human activity.
Previous estimates, dating to the 1980s, put the number of western lowland gorillas at less than 100,000. But the animal's numbers were believed to have fallen by at least 50 percent since then due to hunting and disease, according to researchers.
The newly discovered gorilla population now puts their estimated numbers at between 175,000 to 225,000.
"This is a very significant discovery because of the terrible decline in population of these magnificent creatures to Ebola and bush meat," said Emma Stokes, one of the members of the research team.
The researchers in the central African nation of Republic of Congo - neighbor of the much larger Congo - worked out the population figures by counting the sleeping "nests" gorillas make.
The creatures are too reclusive and shy to count individually.
According to Craig Stanford, professor of anthropology and biology at the University of Southern California, "If these new census results are confirmed, they are incredibly important and exciting, the kind of good news we rarely find in the conservation of highly endangered animals."
He added that independent confirmation would be valuable because nest counts vary depending on the specific census method used.
Western lowland gorillas are one of four gorilla subspecies, which also include mountain gorillas, eastern lowland gorillas and Cross River gorillas. All are labeled either endangered or critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
While calling the new census important, Stokes said it does not mean gorilla numbers in the wild are now safe.
"Far from being safe, the gorillas are still under threat from Ebola and hunting for bush meat. We must not become complacent about this. Ebola can wipe out thousands in a short period of time," she said.