Exploring the Status of Gorillas in the Wild
Gorillas are fascinating primates, and very closely related to us humans. To see one up close, you may wonder why are these primates not everywhere? Especially when others are spread so far and wide. They are large, capable primates, with strength and intelligence. Yet their range is limited and their numbers dwindling.
This may leave you asking why? and wondering how many gorillas are left in the world? Let’s take a look at these questions, as well as a brief introduction to what gorillas are, and threats they face. This might help us understand how many are left in the world.
What Are Gorillas?
Gorillas are the largest living primates. Although they can climb, they are terrestrial animals meaning they live on the ground, as opposed to arboreal animals, which live in trees.
The gorilla is generally a gentle and passive creature that inhabits the tropical forests of Africa. The closest living relative of the gorilla is the chimpanzee. They live in family groups of usually five to ten, but up to 20 individuals, with one adult male, several adult females and their offspring.
Gorillas are covered in coarse black hair, with a hairless face, hands and feet. They have large, dark brown eyes and a short nose. They spend most of their time eating, resting and travelling through the forest. They build resting areas out of vegetation, in which they sleep both night and day.
Most of the time, gorillas are shy and retiring by nature, and are unlikely to attack humans unless provoked. However, they are still wild animals and should be treated with caution and respect.
What Types Of Gorilla Are There?
There are two species of gorillas, the eastern gorilla and the western gorilla. The eastern gorilla is further divided into two subspecies, the eastern lowland gorilla and the mountain gorilla. The western gorilla is also divided into two subspecies, the Cross River gorilla and the western lowland gorilla.
- Western gorilla(Gorilla gorilla)
- Western Lowland Gorilla (Gorilla gorilla gorilla)
- Cross River gorilla (Gorilla gorilla diehli)
- Eastern gorilla (Gorilla beringei)
- Mountain gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei)
- Eastern lowland gorilla (Gorilla beringei graueri)
How Many Gorillas Are Left In The World?
Despite their size, intelligence and ability to fend for themselves, gorillas are losing ground. Most populations are declining, though one seems not only to be stable, but increasing. Here are all four species and their populations.
Western Lowland Gorilla (Gorilla gorilla gorilla)
- Population: Unknown – Estimates around 100,000
- Status: Critically Endangered
The Western Lowland Gorilla lives in the tropical rainforests spread across six countries across west equatorial Africa which include: southeast Nigeria, Gabon, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Congo and Equatorial Guinea.
The Western Lowland Gorilla is the largest of all primates. Western Lowland Gorillas have broad shoulders, a muscular neck and strong hands and feet. Their considerable size gives them a good defence against predators
Since Wednesday 12th September 2007, the Western Lowland Gorilla was moved from being endangered to critically endangered. This is due to human alteration and loss of habitat.
Because of the dense jungle and remote locations in which these gorillas live, scientist have not been able to conduct an accurate census of these primates. However, they estimate the population to be around 100,000 and unstable due to habitation loss.
Cross River Gorilla (Gorilla gorilla diehli)
- Population: 200 to 300
- Status: Critically Endangered
The Cross River Gorilla lives in five small pockets of habitat in an area on the border of Nigeria and Cameroon. It was classified as a distinct sub-species in the year 2000.
Both loss of habitat and the increased popularity of bush meat have contributed heavily to the decline of the Cross River Gorilla. The population of these gorillas is estimated to be around 200-300 individuals living in several isolated populations. As the populations are isolated, this reduces the breeding pull putting further pressure on the species.
Mountain Gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei)
- Population: Est 1063
- Status: Endangered
Mountain Gorillas are found in the jungles of Zaire, Rwanda and Uganda and particularly in the Virunga Mountains.
Mountain Gorillas have longer and darker hair than other gorillas, enabling them to live at high altitudes and travel into areas where temperatures drop below freezing. Mountain Gorillas have adapted to a life on the ground more than any other non-human primate and their feet most resemble those of humans.
Mountain Gorillas are endangered, threatened by civil war in a small area of Africa where they live. Hunters kill them for food or trophies. Mountain Gorillas forests are chopped down for farmland, fuel and housing.
According to the WWF, at the time of the last census there were an estimated 1063 Mountain Gorillas left in the wild. IN 2018 the IUCN Red list status of the Mountain Gorilla was downgraded form critically endangered to endangered. This was because, even though populations are small, they are increasing.
Eastern Lowland Gorilla (Gorilla beringei graueri)
- Population: Possibly 8000
- Status: Critically Endangered
The Eastern lowland gorilla (Gorilla beringei graueri) is found only in the tropical forests of eastern Zaire, in Africa. Like the Western species of gorilla, the Eastern Lowland Gorillas walk on all fours, however, they use the knuckles on their hands instead of their palms.
Eastern Lowland Gorillas have black coats which in males, like other gorillas, turns silver at the back as the animal matures.
The population of Eastern Lowland Gorillas was estimated to be around 17,000 in the 1990’s, but is believed to have declined by about 50% since then. Since that time civil war in the region has caused increased poaching and pressure on the gorillas and their habitats.
Biggest Threats To Gorillas
The biggest threats to gorillas are habitat loss and poaching. However, they are also very vulnerable to some diseases.
Illegal Hunting – Poaching is the illegal hunting of gorillas for their meat and body parts. Gorilla meat is considered a delicacy in some parts of the world, and gorilla body parts are used in traditional medicine.
Habitat Loss – Habitat loss is caused by the clearing of forests for agriculture, mining, and logging. This leaves gorillas without the trees they need for shelter and the plants they need for food.
Disease – Outbreaks of Ebola can have a devastating effect on gorillas. The mortality rate for gorillas that catch Ebola is up to 95% so the risk once ill, is very high. As we humans share around 95-98% of our DNA with gorillas, they are also very vulnerable to human illnesses and diseases.
Mining – Illegal mining for valuable resources including tin, gold, diamond and coltan (used in cell phones) is a real problem. Particularly in the range of the eastern lowland gorilla. This mining adds corruption and fuel to the civil unrest in the region, and also increases the threat of these gorillas being hunted for bushmeat and trade.
How Many Gorillas Are Killed Each Year?
It is estimated that about 250 eastern lowland gorillas are killed each year for their meat and body parts. This number is likely to be higher, as many gorillas are killed illegally and their deaths go unrecorded.
According to some conservation sources, as much as 5% of the western gorilla population in Northeast Congo are killed each year.
Conservation Status & Preservation Efforts
All but one species of gorilla are critically endangered. The other has been downgraded but is still endangered with a vulnerable population.
There are several preservation efforts in place to help protect gorillas. These include the establishment of national parks and reserves, anti-poaching patrols, and education programs.
The international trade of gorilla parts is also regulated by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
- Gorillas are the largest living primates.
- Gorillas are intelligent animals. They have been known to use tools, and they can learn to sign using American Sign Language.
- A group of gorillas is called a troop.
- A male gorilla is called a silverback because of the silver-colored hair on his back.
- A female gorilla is called a blackback.
- A baby gorilla is called a cub.
- Gorillas are shy and gentle by nature.