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Western Lowland Gorilla

Western Lowland Gorilla

The gentle giant known as the Western Lowland Gorilla is a forest dweller that has been hunted for generations. More recently habitat destruction has had an enormous influence on these peaceful creatures, and its numbers are still in decline. Despite their intimidating size, they are rarely aggressive toward people.

Western Lowland Gorilla numbers are thought to range between 10,000 and 50,000, with a distribution covering parts of Cameroon, Central African Republic, Gabon, Congo, Equatorial Guinea, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Their habitat is lowland tropical rainforests, and they live on a diet of fruit, shoots, leaves, bark, roots, and bulbs. A “troop” of gorilla requires a home range of between ten and fifteen square miles. They are constantly on the move, looking for trees with a ripe crop of food.

Western Lowland Gorilla live to almost forty years. A single young is born after a gestation of 7-8 months. Females reach maturity between 7-9 years and males between 9-12 years (males). Full-grown adults reach a height of up to seven feet and a weight of between 300 and 600 pounds.

The most numerous and widespread of all gorilla subspecies, Western Lowland Gorilla inhabit some of the most dense and remote rainforests in Africa. Significant populations still exist, usually in isolated swamps and remote forests of the Republic of Congo. This species can be distinguished from other gorilla subspecies by their slightly smaller size, their brown-grey coats, auburn chests, wider skulls with more pronounced brow ridges, and smaller ears.

Poaching and disease have caused their numbers to decline by more than 60% over the last twenty years. Scientists calculate that the population would require some 75 years to recover if all threats were removed. As with all the great apes, gorillas reproduce slowly. A healthy female will produce between three and six babies in her lifetime.

Today the biggest threat to lowland gorilla numbers is dwindling habitat, mainly due to a dramatic increase in the clearing of trees for the sake of agriculture. The rapid rise in human populations over the last century has meant that more land is being used for settlement and agriculture than ever before. The Western Lowland Gorilla had disappeared from Nigeria by 1984, while the relatively untouched forests of Gabon to the south still harbor around half the world’s gorilla population.

In addition to habitat destruction, gorillas are still sometimes killed for bush meat, which is widely eaten through Africa. But poaching also carries dangers for the poacher, as it is thought that the disease ebola may be spread via the handling of meat from gorillas and other primates.

Civil wars and political instability, especially in the Democratic Republic of Congo, have reduced the effectiveness of international legal protection. Even in “protected” areas, gorillas are not completely safe. It is estimated that Kahuzi-Biega National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo has recently lost half its gorillas as a result of poaching.

The World Wildlife Fund has helped to develop opportunities for tourism in the Gamba Protected Areas Complex of Gabon and the Dzanga-Sangha Protected Areas in the Central African Republic. And it is pursuing similar initiatives in more locations, including Campo Ma’an National Park in Cameroon.

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