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Reasons Why Gorillas are Endangered

Roy D'Silva
Gorillas, the largest of the apes inhabiting our planet, have been a source of awe and inspiration to humans since centuries. Unfortunately though, they are on the verge of extinction today.

Gorillas inhabit the forests of Central Africa &, after chimpanzees, are the closest relatives of humans. Sadly though, today there remain only about 700 gorillas in the African jungles & have been listed as 'endangered' (Eastern gorillas) and 'critically endangered' (Western gorillas) species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Different Species of Gorilla

There are only two species of gorillas found in the world but each of these is further divided into different sub-species. As mentioned above, they are found in the tropical and sub-tropical forests of Africa, which form their natural habitats. They inhabit the mountains as well as terrains lying as low as sea level.

Eastern Gorilla

✩ Scientifically called Gorilla beringei, the eastern Gorilla is the largest primate in the world.
✩ The eastern gorillas occupy the eastern region of Central Africa, hence the name.
✩ It has two sub-species viz., Gorilla beringei beringei (eastern mountain Gorilla) and Gorilla beringei graueri (eastern lowland Gorilla).
✩ As their names suggest, the eastern mountain Gorilla stays in hilly and elevated areas, while the eastern lowland Gorilla prefers to stay on flat lands and plains.
✩ The eastern mountain gorillas are primarily found in Uganda, Rwanda and the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo. However, the eastern lowland gorillas are the species endemic to the Democratic Republic of Congo.
✩ Gorillas stay together in large groups known as 'troops'. Each troop consists of members ranging from 12 to 40 depending on the size of the habitat.
✩ The females take good care of their young ones and they communicate with each other in different ways. They not only warn their troop members of the dangers, but also warn others to stay away from them.
✩ A male silverback Gorilla, an adult of 13 years or more, is the head of each troop. Only this Gorilla is allowed to mate with the female gorillas of the troop.
✩ The other male members leave the troop once they mature and go on to form their own troops.
✩ Females also leave the troop after maturity, in order to find a suitable silverback so that they can be a part of his troop.
✩ The usual diet of a Gorilla consists of flowers, fruits, leaves, stems, bamboo, etc. The eastern lowland gorillas however, indulge in ants and other small insects, alongside vegetal matter.

Western Gorilla

✩ The western gorillas are scientifically termed as Gorilla gorilla and they inhabit the western region of Central Africa as their name suggests.
✩ Though they are native to Angola, Congo, Cameroon, Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea, Central African Republic and Gabon, they are now regionally extinct in Congo.
✩ They are a smaller in size and more agile than their eastern counterparts, but the physical appearance of both the species is almost similar.
✩ The western gorillas also have two known sub-species viz., Gorilla gorilla diehli (Cross river Gorilla) and Gorilla gorilla gorilla (western lowland Gorilla).
✩ The Cross river gorilla is called so because it is found along the source of the Cross river that spans across the border of Nigeria and Cameroon.
✩ The western lowland gorilla, on the other hand, is found primarily in the lowland tropical forests of western Central Africa where the ground is covered by extensive and thick botanic growth. They are also found in areas adjoining the swamp forests.
✩ The western gorillas feed mainly on fruit-bearing plants alongside other vegetal matter and insects.
✩ One distinguishing characteristic of western Gorillas is that they use a variety of tools in order to complement and complete their foraging needs. For instance, they use small stones or pebbles for breaking or opening nut shells and so on.
✩ Much like the eastern gorillas, silverback plays an important role as the leader of the troop and in the processes of mating and reproduction.
✩ Females tend to be exceptional caregivers and they take care of the young ones until they are four years of age.
The Gorilla is today one of the most endangered species. Some of the reasons for this are man-made while few are natural. Their population is decreasing at an alarming rate. The mountain gorilla is on the verge of extinction.
The 'Endangerment'
The western gorilla is in greater danger of becoming extinct than their eastern counterpart. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species estimates that there may be only 250-300 of them left in the African forests, which is a disturbingly small number.

Heart-wrenching Reasons Why Gorillas are Endangered

Loss of Habitat

One of the major reasons for gorillas becoming an 'endangered' species is an ever-increasing threat to their natural habitat. This is caused due to large-scale deforestation, for agriculture purposes, for acquiring timber, extensive mining activities and grazing of domestic animals which disturbs their natural habitat. Constant growth in human population has also added to the plight of the gorillas.
Most gorilla deaths are caused by illegal poachers who kill them primarily for bush meat which fetches them good money.
Hunting and Poaching
Another reason for poaching is because infant gorillas can be used for entertainment purposes, such as, in circuses, where they are exploited and harassed as also malnourished and starved and eventually, killed. The older ones are poached for their body parts to be sold in the market as amulets and souvenirs, alongside bush meat.
Gorillas have also been the victims of political unrest. Physical violence in the Great Lakes region in Africa is responsible for the deaths of many of these animals. During the early nineties, people from Rwanda escaped from their villages and camped in the Virunga National Park.
Political Unrest
They were forced to harvest firewood from the forest and also kill gorillas in their struggle for survival. The mountain gorillas also suffered during this violence.
The political unrest adversely affected the tourism industry in central Africa. This in turn affected the welfare of gorillas.
Decline in Tourism
A considerable portion of the revenue earned from tourism, both domestic and international, went to the wildlife sanctuaries and national parks for protection and conservation of the gorillas. This flow of revenue came to an abrupt halt, or dwindled greatly, as tourism declined.

Diseases and Ailments

Another major reason, which has brought these animals on the verge of extinction, is the numerous diseases and ailments gorillas suffer from. These animals are prone to ailments like measles, mange and intestinal parasites. Since they interact with humans, they become more susceptible to such illnesses and diseases. In the year 2004, several hundred gorillas died due to the outbreak of dreaded Ebola virus in the Odzala National Park in Congo.
Gorillas are always projected as violent beasts. However, they are not violent and in fact very friendly.
Human Misconceptions
These animals are nowhere near how they are portrayed in the popular culture, in movies and series like 'King Kong' and 'Tarzan'.
The only time gorillas do get angry is when their families are threatened, especially their kids. It is at this time that they rise and thump their chests. Unfortunately, this antic purports them as being violent and therefore results in them.

Natural Disasters

Natural disasters are unavoidable phenomena. They can occur at any place and at any time. Because gorillas are centered in the wilderness of African forests, they are most susceptible to is forest fires which often tends to take a toll on their lives due to extreme heat in the region.

Fun Facts About Gorillas

✿ Gorillas are the closest relatives of humans, after chimpanzees, with almost 98 % of their DNA being similar to us humans.

✿ They are non-aggressive and apprehensive species that do not attack humans, unless they are provoked. However, they are often perceived to be aggressive animals.
✿ Just like humans, the fingerprints of every gorilla is unique, and no two match each other.

✿ Nose-print of every Gorilla is also unique.
✿ Gorillas can walk erect much like humans but prefer not to do so. On the contrary, they walk on their knuckles, by putting all their weight on them.

✿ It is believed that the HIV/AIDS infection can be transmitted through the body of the western lowland Gorilla, alongside the other transmission causes.

✿ On an average, a Gorilla can survive in the wild for about 35 years. But it can live for more than 50 years, if well cared for, in captivity.
✿ Contraceptives have the same effect on gorillas as they have on humans.

✿ Gorillas do not sleep at the same place for more than one night.

✿ Gorillas have the ability to hold things in their hands as well as their feet.
Numerous conservation efforts are being undertaken in order to save these animals from disappearing from the face of the earth. One of them is the Great Apes Survival Project, which is an initiative by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
The main focus of this project is the protection and conservation of the 'Great Apes' that includes gorillas, chimpanzees and orangutans, through restoration of their natural habitats.
Similarly, the International Gorilla Conservation Programme (IGCP) aims at conserving the eastern mountain gorillas and their natural habitats in Uganda, Congo and Rwanda. The African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) also works towards the protection of the gorillas in African forests.
Gorilla tourism is one concept which has worked positively for restoring the population of these apes. Dian Fossey's Mountain Gorilla Project added a new dimension to 'Gorilla Tourism' in Rwanda.
In fact, the project was so popular that gorilla tourism became the largest earning business for the country for quite a while. The project concentrated on tourism development, conservation, mass education and development of wildlife sanctuaries. The project also taught natives about the economic advantages of saving primates.