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Gorilla

Overview

Gorillas display many human-like behaviors and emotions, such as laughter and sadness. They even make their own tools to help them survive in the forest. In fact, gorillas share 98.3% of their genetic code with humans, making them our closest cousins after chimpanzees and bonobos. The largest of the great apes, gorillas are stocky animals with broad chests and shoulders, large, human-like hands and small eyes set into hairless faces.

  • Population
    100,000 to 200,000
  • Scientific Name
    Gorilla gorilla and Gorilla beringei
  • Height
    4-6 ft.
  • Weight
    up to 440 pounds

Gorillas live in family groups of usually 5 to 10, but sometimes two to more than 50, led by a dominant male who holds his position for years. Females become sexually mature around seven or eight years old but don’t begin to breed until a couple of years later. Males mature at an even greater age. Once a female begins to breed, she’ll likely give birth to only one baby every four to six years, and only three or four over her entire lifetime. This low rate of reproduction makes it difficult for gorillas to recover from population declines. Both gorilla species have been decreasing in numbers for decades, and a 2010 United Nations report suggests that they may disappear from large parts of the Congo Basin by the mid-2020s.

Conservation efforts by WWF, other organizations and governments are making a difference for gorillas. New protected areas are being designated for some gorilla populations, and the population of mountain gorillas has seen an increase in recent years.

Saving Amazing Landscapes From Oil and Gas Development

One of the largest oil and gas development companies in the world, Total SA, has committed to keeping out of all natural World Heritage Sites around the globe, including Virunga National Park. But one company that is not respecting World Heritage status is Soco International PLC, which plans to continue to explore in Virunga - home to more than half of the world’s mountain gorilla population. 

Congo Basin, Virunga Mountains

Why They Matter

  • Our Closest Cousins

    Gorillas share 98.3% of their DNA with humans, making them our closest cousins after chimpanzees and bonobos. These charismatic, intelligent animals often surprise us with behaviors and emotions so similar to our human experience.

  • Gorillas Help Maintain Forests

    Gorillas play a key role in maintaining the biodiversity of their forest homes by spreading the seeds of the trees they eat and by opening up gaps in the trees as they move around, letting in light and helping sun-loving plants grow.

  • Protecting Gorilla Habitat Helps Humans

    In Central Africa, humans depend on the same environment as gorillas for their food, water, medicine and other forest products. Protecting forests that house gorillas also conserves the forests for the humans that live there. The Congo Basin is home to the second largest tropical rainforest on Earth, which serves as the green heart of Africa. Moisture generated by this forest falls as rain in the United States, meaning that the impact of the loss of this forest will be felt globally.

Threats

  • Population 100,000 to 200,000
Mountain gorilla  in the Bwinidi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda

Like humans, gorillas reproduce slowly, giving birth to only one baby at a time and then raising that infant for several years before giving birth again. This slow reproduction rate makes gorillas especially vulnerable to any population declines.

Habitat destruction is a problem across their central African range. Gorillas are also still killed for the bushmeat trade. That trade has helped spread the Ebola virus, which is deadly to both gorillas and humans. Efforts to protect gorillas are often hampered by weak law enforcement and civil unrest in many places where gorillas live.

HABITAT LOSS

Only 17% of the gorilla population currently lives in protected regions, and vast areas of gorilla forest have already been lost. That destruction continues as logging companies clear areas for the timber trade, the mining and oil and gas industries move into gorilla territory, and local people cut down trees to make room for agricultural fields and livestock.

HUNTING AND TRADE

In some cultures in central Africa, the killing and eating of gorillas has increased in recent years and the animals are frequently slaughtered for the bushmeat trade.

DISEASE

Ebola hemorrhagic fever is a severe, infectious, often fatal disease that has devastated many African great ape populations. Scientists in 2003 estimated that a third of the wild gorilla population had been killed by the Ebola virus, and the species remain at risk. Additionally, because gorillas share so many traits with humans, they are susceptible to other human diseases. Populations of gorillas that are in frequent contact with humans are particularly vulnerable to deadly respiratory infections. In mountain gorilla range, where gorillas frequently raid farms, they are susceptible to scabies, TB and a host of other diseases from human transmission.

WEAK LAW ENFORCEMENT

Both the killing of gorillas and trade in gorilla products are illegal across the animals’ range, but poachers, traders and consumers are rarely apprehended

“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, Africa Program

What WWF Is Doing

Guard with hand held GPS device for recording gorilla locations

Guard with a handheld GPS device to record location in Virunga National Park, habitat of the mountain gorilla.

PREVENTING POACHING AND ILLEGAL WILDLIFE TRADE

Because poaching is a problem across central Africa, WWF works with TRAFFIC, the world’s largest wildlife trade monitoring network, and the World Conservation Union to monitor the illegal trade of gorillas and other great apes. WWF also advocates for nations to more effectively enforce wildlife laws and raises awareness in local villages of the dangers of eating bushmeat. In addition, WWF has trained local wildlife authorities in modern methods of antipoaching and gorilla monitoring and provided equipment and provisions for anti-poaching teams in several nations.

DEVELOPING TOURISM

Ecotourism provides opportunities for protecting gorillas and their forest homes and for helping the local people. WWF has habituated gorilla groups to humans to develop opportunities for gorilla tourism. The organization has also trained trackers and guides as part of the development of controlled tourism programs.

MONITORING POPULATIONS

WWF conducts research into the ecology, distribution and population biology of gorillas. The organization also supports research into the spread of diseases between humans and gorillas and the natural spread of diseases such as Ebola, as well as disease prevention. Park rangers are often the ones monitoring gorillas, and so WWF and our partners have established a ranger-based monitoring program for mountain gorillas that documented a 17% increase in gorilla numbers in the Virunga Mountains over a 14-year period.

PRESERVING HABITAT

View of Mpassa project area in Gabon

Habitat destruction is a concern for all four gorilla subspecies. WWF has worked to designate new protected areas for gorillas in many places, like in Cameroon, where gorilla sanctuaries would provide havens for the rare cross river gorilla as well as the western lowland gorilla. WWF also collaborates with local governments in the Congo Basin, timber companies and international lending institutions to promote dialogue, encourage the best environmental practices and promote the adoption of forest certification standards.

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