Gorillas belong to the species of the great apes. They are creatures who are very closely related to us. They are peaceful vegetarians. The UN has recognized their particular vulnerability. But humans are about to completely wipe out two out of the still existing four gorilla subspecies. In the past three generations, their population shrank by 80%.
The estimated number of the gorilla population rounds to about 100,000 individuals. They can only be found in Central Africa. There are 2 types of gorillas: the western gorilla lives near the Gulf of Guinea and is genetically separated from the eastern gorilla, who can be located 1000 km, or 621 miles, further south in the Congo basin.
According to the WWF, the eastern gorilla population amounts to approximately 5,000 animals. Within this population, there is yet another subspecies: the mountain gorilla. So far, his survival strategy has been to adapt himself to higher ground habitats in order to escape human settlements. It is assumed that about 700 animals still exist between the Virunga volcanoes and in the Bwindi forest, a border area between Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The western lowland gorilla represents the largest population holding an amount of 95,000 animals. There is yet another subspecies: the Cross River gorilla. It is considered that only around 250-300 animals still exist within the border region of Nigeria and Cameroon. They also pull themselves further and further back into higher situated habitats.
Gorillas have a robust, sturdy physique. They have brown eyes with a white edge at the iris, are tailless and have a mobile thumb similar to most primates. Standing upright, they can be between 1.25 to 1.75 meters, or 4.40 to 5.74 feet, tall, keeping most of the time a slightly bent posture at their knees. Their arms are longer than their legs and span between 2 to 2.75 meters, or 6.56 to 9.02 feet. Just like humans, every gorilla has an unmistakable fingerprint and a very unique nose. Females weigh between 70 to 90 kilograms, or 154 to 198 pounds respectively, which is much less than their male counterparts. A silverback can easily weigh up to 200 kilograms, or 441 pounds.
Gorillas live together in groups of 2 to 40 animals. The groups interact with individuals tending to leave their own group to join another one and separate from it again. Their home range varies from 400 to 3,200 hectares – that is around 32 kilometer, or 20 miles in length. They communicate with each other through facial expressions, body postures, power demonstrations and sounds. Well known is the drumming on the chest, which is not only a way of showing-off, but also serves as greeting ritual or to specify location. Researchers even assume the usage of tools. It is known, for example, that gorillas use sticks to find out about water depths.
In general, eastern gorillas are slightly larger and heavier than western gorillas, having a broader chest with an overall sturdier look. Whilst eastern gorillas display a black, silkier fur, western gorillas rather show a grayish-brown and shorter-haired fur that in males can show as a straight gray as high as up to the lower thighs.
There are several threats that endanger this species. First of all, there is the destruction of their habitat by deforestation. Also, civil unrest in parts of their distribution area makes it difficult to carry out protective actions and renders the efficient monitoring of protected areas almost impossible. The largest lowland gorilla population of the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo can be encountered in the Kahuzi Biéga national park. Civil war and the exploitation of raw materials like coltan ore or oil are the main causes why protective measurements are not adequately implemented. Another reason is poaching. The regional industry still tolerates gorilla meat as a favorable, illegally procured bushmeat in order to supply restaurants and other consumers. At the same time, it is often forgotten that the population of these great apes has been decimated in particular by the deadly Ebola virus.
Since 1975 gorillas are listed in Annex I of the Washington Convention CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna). This means that international commercial trade with animals or animal parts is prohibited. In 2008, the agreement for the conversation of the gorillas and their habitats entered in force. So far, the agreement has been signed by the Central African Republic, the Republic of the Congo, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, and Gabun.
Njanga – the only Cross River gorilla in human care at the animal orphanage in Limbe (Cameroon)