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Researchers feared only around 50,000 Western lowland gorillas left worldwide
Now 125,000 primates have been discovered in northern Congo
Population declining rapidly because of hunting and diseases like Ebola
Expert: This is the highest-known density of gorillas that's ever been found
(CNN) -- An estimated 125,000 Western lowland gorillas are living in a swamp in equatorial Africa, researchers reported Tuesday, double the number of the endangered primates thought to survive worldwide.
"It's pretty astonishing," Hugo Rainey, one of the researchers who conducted the survey for the U.S.-based Wildlife Conservation Society, told CNN Tuesday.
The last census on the species, carried out during the 1980s, estimated that there were only 100,000 of the gorillas left worldwide. Since then, the researchers estimated, the numbers had been cut in half.
WCS survey teams conducted the research in 2006 and 2007, traveling to the remote Lac Tele Community Reserve in northern Republic of Congo, a vast area of swamp forest.
Acting on a tip from hunters who indicated the presence of gorillas, Rainey said that the researchers trekked on foot through mud for three days to the outskirts of Lac Tele, about 80 kilometers (50 miles) from the nearest road.
"When we went there, we found an astonishing amount of gorillas," said Rainey, speaking from the International Primatological Society Congress in Edinburgh, Scotland.
Though researchers did spot some gorillas, they based their estimate on the number of gorilla nests found at the site, Rainey said. Each gorilla makes a nest to sleep in at night.