Distribution And Population Of Gorillas: Important Facts And Figures

A gorilla sits in the rainforest of the Congo.
A gorilla sits in the rainforest of the Congo.

The gorilla is a great ape species that lives throughout the central region of Africa, where they prefer mountainous forests, tropical rainforests, and bamboo forests. This species is divided into two species: the western gorilla and the eastern gorilla. The western gorilla is further divided into the western lowland and Cross River subspecies, while the eastern gorilla is divided into the mountain and eastern lowland subspecies. On average, gorillas typically grow to over 5 feet in height with males weighing between 300 and 453 pounds. This makes gorillas the largest primate in the world. The eastern gorilla species are usually larger than their western counterpart. Gorillas are social animals that live in communities of between 2 to more than 50 individuals, although the average is between 5 and 10. This article takes a closer look at the conservation status, threats, and global population of the gorilla.

Conservation Status Of Gorillas

Over the last few decades, the wild gorilla population has been rapidly declining. Some areas have lost over half the gorilla population between 1983 and 2000. Between 2005 and 2013, for example, the western lowland gorilla population experienced an 18.75% decline. The eastern woodland gorilla has lost 77% of its numbers in just one generation, a trend that is continuing at a 5% loss every year. If the current population decline continues, eastern woodland gorillas are expected to experience an overall loss of 93% by 2054. Today, all 4 subspecies of gorillas are listed as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List.

Threats To The Gorilla Population Of The World

The biggest threats faced by gorillas include habitat destruction, poaching, and disease.

Large tracts of traditionally gorilla-inhabited territory have been destroyed by a number of industries, including agriculture and forestry. As trees are cut down to be sold as timber and to make way for increasing agricultural activity, gorillas are left with smaller and more fragmented areas in which to survive. In addition to decreased territory size, the ecosystem needed for gorillas to thrive is also destroyed.

Illegal poaching is another significant threat to gorillas in the wild. In urban areas, wealthy residents view eating gorilla meat as a sign of prestige, therefore creating a high demand for gorilla bushmeat. Many primate species are at risk of poaching, but hunters tend to prefer gorillas due to their large size, which provides significantly more meat that can be sold on the market.

In addition to the previously mentioned threats to gorilla security, disease is also detrimental this species. The western gorillas, for example, have suffered significant deaths due to the Ebola virus. It is believed to have caused a 33% loss in this population between 1992 and 2007. In 1994, the entire population in Gabon, which was once the second largest living in a protected area, was lost due to this virus. Additionally, in Odzala National Park of the Republic of Congo, 95% of its 600 gorillas died as a result of Ebola.

Gorillas In The Wild

The threats facing gorillas have led to significant declines and, in some cases, complete loss of populations throughout central Africa. Today, lowland-inhabiting gorillas outnumber those found in mountainous and upland regions. Of lowland gorillas, those in the west have a larger population size than those in the east.

Western lowland gorillas are believed to have a wild population size of around 100,000. This species can be found in: the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Angola, Gabon, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Republic of the Congo, and the Central African Republic. Within these countries, it tends to inhabit the lowland swamps and montane forests, both primary and secondary.

Eastern lowland gorillas are numbered at approximately 4,000 in the wild. This species is endemic to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where it can be found in montane forests. Because of its endemic nature, the eastern lowland gorilla is particularly susceptible to the previously mentioned threats. The majority of this population lives in protected areas, including: the Tayna Gorilla Reserve, the Kahuzi-Biega National Park, and the Maiko National Park. Others can be found in the Usala forest and the Itombwe Massif mountains.

Mountain gorillas have one of the smallest subspecies populations. Only around 880 are currently living and divided into 2 populations within three countries: Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. One population inhabits the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda. The second population inhabits 3 national parks within the Virunga Volcanic mountains: Virunga in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mgahinga in Uganda, and Volcanoes in Rwanda.

The Cross River gorilla has the smallest population of all the subspecies. With only between 250 and 300 remaining, it is the scarcest great ape species in the world. It can only be found along the border between Nigeria and Cameroon, where it inhabits the mountainous forests areas. Researchers believe this population exists in 11 communities within a 4,600 square-mile territory. The government of Cameroon established the Kagwene Gorilla Sanctuary in April of 2008. It covers an area of 7.5 square miles, located in the western region of the country. Roughly half of this sanctuary consists of the mountainous forest habitats necessary for survival of this species.

Gorillas In Captivity

Many gorillas are also kept in captivity around the world, primarily in zoos. Of the 4 gorilla subspecies, only 2 are believed to currently be held in zoos: western lowland and eastern lowland. Approximately 4,000 western lowland gorillas and only 24 eastern lowland gorillas are living in zoos. The eastern lowland gorillas in captivity are primarily found in zoos within its native habitat. The exception to this is the Antwerp Zoo, which is located in Antwerp, Belgium.

Small numbers of gorillas have been confiscated from poachers and illegal traders. Once found, they have been placed in captivity at various rehabilitation centers. Eastern lowland gorillas are currently being kept at the Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education center at the Tayna Nature Reserve in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The only mountain gorillas known to be in captivity are held at the Senkwekwe Center at the Virunga National Park in the eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo.


More in Environment