Status: Critically endangered
Known As: Western Lowland Gorilla.
Estimated numbers left in the wild: Probably more than 125,000 (estimates are difficult)
Western lowland gorillas are the smallest gorilla subspecies, but are still quite large, weighing from 68 to 181 kilograms. Males are significantly larger than females and stand 1.2 to 1.8 meters tall when upright, though they usually move about on all fours. In fact, their hands are equipped with special callouses to make the classic gorilla “knuckle walking” easier.
Family structure: Gorillas of this type are social animals but live in smaller family groups than other gorilla subspecies, with 4 to 8 individuals making up a typical troop. There can be as many as 30 gorillas in a single troop, however. They move about on the ground most of the time despite their ability to climb, since their weight makes them more comfortable on the forest floor. A group is led by a “silverback” male, named for the silvery appearance of the hair on the back of an older male gorilla, and contains a few young males as well as females and juveniles.
Home range: Gorilla troops have home ranges of anywhere from 2 square kilometres to 40 square kilometres, but do not defend these areas from other groups of gorillas. The apes move around their home range as their alpha male leader chooses, eating fruit, leaves, shoots, tree bark and pulp, bamboo, and wild celery. Insects are sometimes eaten as a supplement to this vegetarian diet.
Shelter and young: Western lowland gorillas build temporary leaf nests for shelter and display a high degree of intelligence. Young gorillas ride on their mothers’ backs for several years before achieving greater independence. Sexual maturity is not reached until the age of ten, and gorillas reproduce slowly, increasing their vulnerability to population pressures.
Location: Western lowland gorilla populations are concentrated in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Central African Republic, Angola, and Cameroon. These apes favour swamp forests, primary and secondary forests, and montane forests, making accurate estimates of their population very difficult, though it also puts some animals out of easy reach of poachers.
Threats: Western lowland gorillas face a double-pronged threat today from the growth of nearby human populations. One factor threatening these splendid apes is loss of habitat as the thick jungle they depend on for food is cleared to make way for inefficient local agriculture. The other, more direct threat, is poaching, mostly for “bush meat”. Gorillas are considered a food source by many local people and many are shot for eating purposes. Due to heavy poaching, gorilla numbers have fallen by approximately 60% in the past two to three decades. Gorillas are also endangered by diseases, including the Ebola virus.
Conservation efforts: The western lowland gorilla is the focus of many well-organized conservation efforts, yet its future remains in severe doubt nevertheless. Wildlife management resources are being steadily developed to help conserve these apes. Other critical conservation drives involve quickly and effectively finding viable alternative protein sources for local communities to reduce poaching for bushmeat.
The Aspinall Foundation
The Aspinall Foundation works with the governments of the Republic of Congo and Gabon to reintroduce the Western Lowland Gorilla to the wild and combat poaching.
The Gorilla Organisation
The Gorilla Organisation is a London-based charity that runs innovative and award-winning projects in DR Congo, Rwanda and Uganda to protect the different Gorilla species.
Wildlife Conservation Society
Wildlife Conservation Society was formed in 1895 with the aim of protecting 25 percent of the world’s biodiversity by promoting the importance of protecting wildlife and their habitats. WCS has five zoos in New York.