The world's largest living primate has been listed as critically endangered, making four of the six ape species only one step away from extinction, according to report released on Sunday at the IUCN World Conservation Congress in Hawaii.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature, or IUCN, has listed the eastern gorilla as critically endangered in its latest "red list" of threatened species. The eastern gorilla has suffered a 70 per cent population collapse over the past 20 years, primarily due to illegal hunting, the Guardian reported.
The western gorilla, the Bornean orangutan and Sumatran orangutan are the other three great ape species classed as critically endangered. Chimpanzees and bonobos are deemed endangered.
"We are driving our closest living relatives to extinction, which is sickening," said M. Sanjanyan, Vice-President at Conservation International.
"If we can protect our large primary forests and make local and indigenous people the beneficiaries of that, we'll continue to share the world with great apes. If we don't, we're done. We'll have a few relics left but, ecologically speaking, the great apes will be gone."
Jane Goodall, the renowned primatologist, said that apes are facing huge problems around the world and blamed corrupt governments and the interests of big business for their plight. "Unfortunately, the progress we are making is on greater awareness -- overall the numbers [of apes] are still falling," she said.
The latest IUCN red list has better news for the giant panda, which has improved from endangered to vulnerable, the Guardian added.
Previously the subject of laboriously unsuccessful breeding programmes, pandas have benefited from efforts by the Chinese government to protect forests.
"This reclassification recognises decades of successful conservation efforts led by the Chinese government and demonstrates that investment in the conservation of iconic species like giant pandas does pay off -- and benefits our society as well as species," said Lo Sze Ping, Chief Executive of the China office of WWF, which has had a panda as its global logo since 1961.
"Everyone should celebrate this achievement, but pandas remain scattered and vulnerable, and much of their habitat is threatened by poorly planned infrastructure projects. And remember: there are still only 1,864 left in the wild."
Australia, a hotspot for species extinctions, has made progress with the bridled nailtail wallaby, which has improved from endangered to vulnerable. But the koala is now listed as vulnerable when previously it wasn't considered in danger at all, due to habitat loss, forest fires, drought and disease.
Elsewhere, the previously abundant plains zebra has moved from least concerned to near threatened due to a spike in hunting for meat and skins. A trio of antelope species found in Africa are also now near threatened for the same reason.
Two plant species have been rediscovered in Hawaii. Mark's cyanea and hairy wikstroemia, both endemic to the US state, were both thought to be extinct but small numbers of each species were recently found, the Guardian reported.
In total, the IUCN assessed 82,954 plant and animal species, with 23,928 classed as threatened in some way. Of the 5,107 species considered critically endangered, around half are plants, with amphibians, molluscs and fish also having large numbers of species on the brink of extinction.
The IUCN congress has the theme Planet at the Crossroads, with many scientists at the gathering expressing alarm that a pernicious mix of climate change, habitat loss and hunting is driving what's been termed the "sixth great extinction" of the Earth's flora and fauna.
(With agency input)