World Gorilla Day 2020

World gorilla day 2020 is the day to celebrate Gorillas. It is the same day that Dian Fossey established Karisoke Research Centre in 1967. 

A few gorilla facts

Gorillas are the world’s largest living primates. Besides chimpanzees and bonobos, they are our closest living relatives. In addition, humans share 95 – 98% of DNA with gorillas.

Moreover, these unique primates spend much of their lives on the ground. Gorillas are gentle giants and exhibit many human-like behaviours, such as sadness, happiness, and laughter.

They are social animals living in troops of up to 50 individuals led by one dominant male, called a ‘silverback’ due to the silvery fur on its back. The dominant silverback will hold his position as leader for many years until another dominant male challenge him or becomes too old and weak to continue leading. 

Mountain gorilla
World Gorilla Day 2020
Mountain gorilla silverback, Bwindi National Park, Uganda

Females reproduce at around 8 – 10 years of age. Female gorillas will give birth to a single infant every 4-6 years and will only ever have 3 or 4 infants during their lifetime. Gorilla gestation is around nine months. Their low reproduction rate significantly impacts their ability to increase their population faster. Their diet consists of fruit, leaves, berries and plants.

  • Lifespan ~ in the wild, 35-40 years, in captivity 50 years.
  • They create nests both on the ground and in trees for sleeping
  • They are very shy and non-aggressive unless challenged
  • Gorillas walk using their back legs and knuckles
  • Humans are the only predators
  • All gorilla species are critically endangered according to IUCN Red List of Endangered Species. 
Mountain gorilla with her infant
World Gorilla Day 2020
Female mountain gorilla with an infant, Bwindi National Park, Uganda
Silverback mountain gorilla, Bwindi National Park, Uganda
World Gorilla Day 2020
Silverback mountain gorilla, leader of his troop, Bwindi National Park, Uganda
two main Species of gorillas in the world

The eastern gorilla and the western gorilla. Each of which has two subspecies. Their habitat is the tropical and subtropical regions of the African Continent. What they both have in common is that they are both endangered.

Eastern gorilla (Gorilla beringei)

The eastern gorilla habitat is the sub-alpine and mountainous rainforests, such as; Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Uniquely, they possess large, stocky bodies, big heads, broad chests, and long arms.

Similarly, the Eastern gorilla is covered in black fur, apart from their chests, face, feet, and hands, which are bare. Fully grown males weigh 150 – 205kg and females around 90 – 100 kg. Likewise, these gorillas also live in stable family groups with one dominant silverback male as their leader. However, these gorillas are critically endangered; their numbers decrease due to habitat loss, illegal hunting for body parts and bush meat, and human-wildlife conflict. And their population has declined more than 70% in the past 20 years (IUCN Red List of Endangered Species).

The two subspecies of the eastern gorilla
  • Mountain gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei) 
  • Eastern Lowland gorilla or Grauer’s gorilla (Gorilla beringei graueri)
Mountain gorilla

Notably, the mountain gorilla is one of the world’s most endangered primates in the world. Consequently, they live high up in the forests of the Virunga Volcanic Mountains at around 2500 – 4000 metres elevation. The Virunga Mountains border Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Currently, their population is around 1000+ (2018 census). Mountain gorillas are about the same size as their cousins, the Cross River gorilla. However, these gorillas have thicker fur, which is needed to keep them warm in their high elevation habitat. Unfortunately, the gorillas are also at risk of extinction due to habitat loss required by expanding the human population, agriculture, deforestation and poaching by humans.

Fig eating mountain gorilla, Bwindi National Park, Uganda 
World Gorilla Day 2020
Mountain gorilla enjoying fresh figs, Bwindi National Park, Uganda
Eastern Lowland or Grauer’s gorilla

This gorilla lives in the tropical rainforests of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Over the past 50 years, their habitat has significantly reduced. Now is only 13% of their original habitat size. Their population has declined by more than 50% over the past 30 years. These gorillas have black hair, which is shorter than the mountain gorilla. They are subject to the same threats as all other gorilla species. 

Western gorilla (Gorilla gorilla)

In contrast, the western gorilla has the largest population of gorillas. In comparison, their fur is lighter and greyish to brownish, and they sometimes have a yellowish forehead. They also have an overhanging tip on their nose. Their height is approximately 135 – 155 cm when standing.

At the same time, western gorillas live in troops of 2 – 20. Similarly, the troops consist of young males, females, and infants guarded by one dominant male. Their primary diet is fruit, leaves, bark, stems. Western gorillas are classified as critically endangered. ,

Threats

Their biggest threat is Ebola, which has wiped out around 33% of their population in protected areas. Due to the increasing human population requiring more land, the gorilla habitat is shrinking. Increasing the need for agriculture, farming, and timber also impacts the gorillas’ habitats. Poaching is also occurring for body parts, contributing to their declining numbers. Due to the declining numbers, WWF, the Cameroon and Nigerian governments, and several organisations are creating more protected areas for gorillas.

THE TWO SUBSPECIES OF THE western gorilla
  • Cross River gorilla (Gorilla gorilla diehli)
  • Western Lowland gorilla (Gorilla gorilla gorilla)
Cross River gorilla

Cross River gorilla’s habitat is the forested hills and mountains at the border of Nigeria and Cameroon, near the Cross-River’s headwaters. Comparatively, these are the rarest of all apes, with a population of 250 individuals. These gorillas have a smaller palate and a noticeably smaller skull in relation to their body size. Furthermore, they are critically endangered (IUCN Red List of Endangered Species).

Western Lowland gorilla’s

Western Lowland gorillas are found in central Africa’s lowland swamps and montane forests, such as; Angola, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the Central African Republic. These gorillas are the smallest of the western gorilla subspecies. However, they are still as strong as their larger cousins despite their smaller size. Similarly, they also have black skin and coarse hair covering their entire body. 

Western lowland gorilla, Taronga Zoo
World Gorilla Day 2020
Western lowland gorilla, Taronga Zoo, Sydney
Threats

The following threats apply to all species of gorillas.

  • Habitat destruction ~ due to deforestation, population growth, agriculture
  • The biggest treat is the bushmeat trade. Bushmeat trade.
  • Habituated gorillas do not fear humans and are easy targets for hunters. Meat from one gorilla provides great opportunities for selling.
  • Accidental death ~ steel traps set in forests for other bushmeat (pigs, wild boars).
  • Disease: Ebola is a serious disease for gorillas, one-third of the gorilla population died in 2003.
  • Gorillas are also susceptible to other human diseases, for example; respiratory diseases, scabies, tuberculosis, and other humans to animal transmissible diseases. 
  • Civil unrest, lack of governance, weak law enforcement, lack of local law surrounding gorilla habitats, untrained guards. Gorilla body parts fetch large sums of money.  Many of the poachers are actually guards that are supposed to protect the gorillas.
Mountain gorilla infant closely guarded by its mother, Bwindi National Park, Uganda
World Gorilla Day 2020
Mountain gorilla infant closely guarded by its mother, Bwindi National Park, Uganda.
Conservation
  • WWF, and a number of other organisations, and governments are working hard towards gorilla conservation. Conservation efforts are implementing safe and protected areas. 
  • Ecotourism: provides financial support for protecting gorillas in their habitats and helping local people provide protection for their local wildlife. 
  • Monitoring population: research on the distribution and population helps to monitor health and safety. Training guides and rangers to identify any potential issues and report them.
  • Preserving habitats: protecting gorilla habitats by not allowing any deforestation, hunting by local people in search of bushmeat to feed their families, and also poachers from entering their habitats. 

Young mountain gorilla infant, Bwindi National Park, Uganda
World Gorilla Day 2020
Mountain gorilla, Bwindi National Park, Uganda
References

https://www.worldwildlife.org/species/gorilla

https://www.livescience.com/31397-gorillas-subspecies-images.html

https://www.discoverwildlife.com/animal-facts/mammals/facts-about-gorillas/

https://www.iucn.org/news/species/201609/four-out-six-great-apes-one-step-away-extinction-–-iucn-red-list

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