No animal has impacted our culture like gorillas. Since their discovery in 1902 gorillas have captivated our imagination and given us some of the greatest stories of our time including King Kong and Tarzan. But with this impact has come a huge negative effect on the gorilla- from poaching to deforestation our distant cousin has not been treated well by mankind. Due to this, the gorilla populations of the world has dwindled with the mountain gorilla’s numbers sinking to just two-hundred and fifty to three-hundred according to animaldiversity.org. Many conservation efforts have been put into action but with the species in such low numbers, their future is highly questionable.
There are two main species of gorilla, the western gorilla (gorilla, gorilla), and the eastern gorilla (gorilla beringei). The western gorilla dwells around the rain forest of the Congo and the Central African Republic while the eastern gorilla dwells around the Virunga Mountains as well as the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Contrary to stereotypes gorillas don’t just eat bananas as portrayed in most media. All species of gorilla have virtually the same diet with animaldiversity.org claiming wild gorillas are herbivores that not only feed on fruit, but other plants as well including fibrous bark and ferns. An interesting note is that gorillas know not to overeat in their respected dwelling area, they move to different areas to forage before returning to the same area to forage again in order to give the vegetation a chance to regrow.
Gorillas mating ritual is much like one of it’s closest relatives, you; they have no set mating season as the females menstruate every twenty-eight days or so. Much like humans, female gorillas will go for the stronger male gorillas who are the dominant males of the group who mate with all of the females. This is so that the children will have stronger genetics, an example of evolution at work. However female gorillas only give birth to one offspring at a time (twins are extremely rare) and require the same type of round the clock care as a baby human. Because of this, the infant mortality rate is high among gorillas. Couple this with the fact that a female can only give birth every four years and that a high number of those offsprings do not survive meaning that “...surviving offspring are produced only once every 6 to 8 years.” (animaldiversity.org) it shows just how fragile the species are.
This leads to a depressing question, with the reproduction of the gorillas being so fragile and the constant threat of outside forces such as deforestation and poaching, just how many gorillas are left in the wild? The answer is not good. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) currently lists all species of gorilla as critically endangered with numbers still being low despite conservation efforts. The eastern gorilla’s population has been estimated to have dropped below six-thousand while the western gorilla’s population has dropped to around one-hundred and fifty thousand with some sup species barely hanging on with a population of two-hundred and fifty at one point. According to the WWF, “Having endured decades of civil war in Central and East Africa, gorillas are confronted by the devastating consequences of increased habitat loss, poaching for the bushmeat trade and the spread of dangerous diseases like Ebola.” (worldwildlife.org).
The gorilla is one of the first species added to The Endangered Species Act, added on 6/2/1970. Since the discovery of the gorilla in 1902 they became common victims of poaching and big game hunting due to the impact they had on our culture as an exotic animal.
There is no record of conservation efforts on the US Fish & Wildlife website most likely due to the fact that it is not a species native to the United States. However, on the World Wildlife Fund website, it is shown that they have a program called the WWF-funded International Gorilla Conservation Program (IGCP). Thanks to this program the mountain gorilla (a subspecies of the eastern gorilla) has been brought back from the brink of extinction. According to the WWF the mountain gorilla “...has recorded an impressive 17 percent increase in the population of this highly endangered great ape.” (worldwildlife.org). The number of mountain gorillas had increased from three-hundred and twenty-four to three-hundred and eighty- while it didn’t seem like much it was definitely a step in the right direction because as of 2002 the number climbed to seven-hundred. The WWF only has results posted for the mountain gorilla however they do have a list of all of the projects going on in different countries that are home to both the western and eastern gorilla. I won’t name them all but some examples are Dzanga-Sangha Dense Forest Special Reserve and the Dzanga-Ndoki National Park located in the Central African Republic and The Virunga Environmental Program located in The Democratic Republic of the Congo. All of these programs aim to create a safe environment to preserve gorillas as well as other species that share the same habitat.
As stated before gorillas are one of the most iconic exotic animals that took our culture by storm when they were first discovered. They represent the unknown for many. But this has spelled certain doom for most gorillas unfortunately as they have attracted the attention of poachers. The unfortunate reality is that there is more money to be made killing these magnificent creatures than there is preserving them. Poachers do not act the same as hunters do where they hunt only what they need and make sure that they preserve the species they are hunting so they don’t get driven to extinction. The demand for bushmeat is one of the factors that has driven the gorilla population down so low as poachers kill gorillas to sell their meat as well as taxidermy on the black market. While poaching is a huge problem for gorillas the biggest factor in their dwindling numbers is deforestation due to lumber demand and agriculture. This has driven the gorilla to extinction in areas where they once roamed free. A “perfect” example of this would be in Nigeria. Animaldiversity.org states that “...Nigeria was home to gorillas twenty-five years ago. Today, gorillas have become extinct there and cattle-ranches cover what used to be gorilla habitat.” (animaldiversity.org).
This is where the argument comes in that people have to eat and survive. Hunger is a huge problem in African countries and people need food to live, so the answer obviously is more farming for more food. Unfortunately, farming spells doom for many animals because of the fact that farming requires habitat destruction in order to plant crops or raise livestock. When you have so many people that need to eat along with wood to build their homes the well-being of animals tends to go out the window.
And it doesn’t stop there; preserving these habitats is not cheap. In fact, according to The Scientist Magazine, it could cost up to seventy-six billion dollars a year to save the worlds most at-risk species and habitats- note that this number was from 2012 so it has most likely increased. This is money that many conservation efforts do not have and have to rely on donations, government funding (which comes out of the taxpayers pocket), tourism profit, and even hunting. Yes, hunting, one way that reserves make money is by charging people a huge amount of money to be able to hunt and kill an exotic animal, the money is then used to fund conservation efforts. It may seem counter-intuitive but when a species so vital to the ecosystem is on the line anything helps.
As far as I can tell from my research, outside of poachers nobody is intentionally harming gorillas or advocating for them to be hunted or removed from certain areas. The sad reality is that civil wars and deforestation have devastated the species, something they were just innocent bystanders in. As mentioned above, however, there are campaigns funded by many of the African governments to preserve the
While the argument can be made that conservation has a negative impact on the local human population and that the well-being of humans is far more important than that of a gorilla. People fail to realize the importance of these magnificent creatures to the ecosystems, an ecosystem that we humans are part of. Gorillas play a very important role in the food chain by grazing on vegetation and even generating revenue as they are huge tourist attractions. If gorillas go extinct, the ecosystems in their habitat will be disrupted and lead to other vital animals leaving the area. Making it even harder for the humans who occupy those areas to live. So, in the end, saving these creatures is worth it, like any other endangered creature because they all play an important part on our beautiful planet. Gorillas captivated us from the day they were discovered and gave us great stories in our pop-culture like Tarzan and King Kong. Gorillas have always represented strength and I think as the smartest creatures on the planet we owe it to our distant cousins to protect them and their home. To wrap things up I would like to say that tourism is one of the best ways that conservation efforts make money. So instead of posting about how sad the situation makes you on social media you can treat yourself to a vacation and see these animals in person while helping to protect them. It is definitely on my bucket list of things to do someday.