In our last article on where to “See—and Save—the World’s Most Endangered Species: Part 2,” we took a look at the various species of endangered rhinos. In part three, we’ll learn about one of our closest cousins, who also happens to be one of the world’s most endangered creatures. The giant gorilla (family Hominidae) shares 98.3 percent of the same DNA as humans and is one of the four great apes on Earth—the others being chimpanzees, orangutans and bonobos.
The largest of all primates, endangered gorillas are land dwellers (i.e., they don’t typically climb trees) that are also known for often standing upright and for their curiously human-looking hairless faces. What may be less known is that gorillas are highly intelligent, gentle creatures (unless provoked), who make useful tools to survive and who also display very human characteristics such as sadness, laughter and joy. That’s right, believe it or not, all signs point to the fact that humans do not hold dominion over emotion!
“Glimpsing at a gorilla through the green veil of the jungle made me realize that if we cannot protect our nearest relatives, then we have failed as a species.” —Dr. Richard Carroll, Vice President, WWF Africa Program
Four distinct subspecies of gorillas cling to life in the tropical rainforests of Central Africa, living in troops of 2 to 40 animals in a highly social structure. Typically, however, they live in families of approximately 5–10 animals led by a dominant male, the “silverback,” who often holds rank for years.
The most abundant of the gorilla subspecies is the western lowland gorilla, with estimates of up to 150,000 to 200,000 remaining in the greater Congo Basin, which includes much of the Democratic Republic of Congo and parts of neighboring countries (Cameroon, Nigeria, the Central African Republic, eastern DRC, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon and Angola). Although the most populous, the western lowland’s numbers are still in decline.
The other three of the four gorilla subspecies are in grave danger of going extinct soon. The western lowland’s nearest cousin, the Cross River gorilla, stands at the edge of a cliff at an estimated 300 individuals remaining. Fairing only slightly better are their eastern gorilla neighbors, the mountain gorilla (est. 720 individuals) and eastern lowland gorilla (est. 3,000 animals remaining).
Primary contributing factors to the steady decline of the gorilla family in recent decades includes habitat fragmentation from forestry loss due to the timber and mining industries, as well as poaching for the bushmeat trade and disease—including the ebola virus, which can be spread to both humans and great apes and has had a devastating impact on gorilla populations. One of the main issues with gorilla recovery is low birth rates and long maturity, as females will give birth to only one baby every four to six years and only a few over the course of her life.
However, conservation efforts by organizations such as WWF and other local groups are making a difference, including new protected areas being developed for specific populations. As a result, the population of mountain gorillas, for example, has seen an increase in recent years. Tourism, of course, is a positive contributor to these conservation efforts as well. While poachers continue to shoot gorillas with guns, eco and wildlife tourists are able to fight back by shooting photos.
If you want to join this crusade to save the giant gorilla while having a life-changing adventure, be sure to join an incredible photo safari in Uganda and Rwanda with Natural Habitat Adventures in order to experience these special creatures up close and personal. And as they say, “To trek into the rain forest and sit with a family of wild gorillas, looking into the eyes of a huge silverback at close range, watching babies cling to their mothers, laughing at youngsters playing in the trees, is a life-changing experience for a wildlife lover.”