Endangered: Western Lowland Gorillas

Female Western Lowland Gorilla 2014 © Stephen Bruno

For many years, I have enjoyed watching and photographing Western Lowland Gorillas.

The Western Lowland Gorilla is not the gorilla featured in the book and movie Gorillas in the Mist. That is the Mountain Gorilla which is one of the subspecies of eastern gorilla.

With the benefit of a super telephoto lens, I have learned much about their behavior.

When I have had the wonderful opportunity for closer observation, I value the intelligent interaction we share.

Western lowland gorillas are distinguished from other gorilla subspecies by their slightly smaller size, their brown-grey coats and auburn chests. They also have wider skulls with more pronounced brow ridges and smaller ears. Hands, faces, feet and chests are black and hairless.

Males are twice as large as females, often weighing over 350 pounds, and they have longer canine teeth. Females weigh about 180 – 200 pounds. On two feet, they may stand up to six feet tall.

Noses are the most distinguishing features on gorillas and are as individualized as fingerprints. Their eyes are small and reddish brown. Ears are small and set close to the head. Gorillas cannot swim and may drown in relatively shallow water

The males have a broad, silvery-white saddle as they mature, and are then, called “silverbacks.” Western Lowland Gorillas have many vocalizations, from hooting to pig grunting. They beat their chest and break vegetation as a defensive display against outsiders. They also communicate through facial expressions. Western Lowland Gorillas live about 30 to 40 years in the wild. They live about 40 to 60 years in captivity.

All gorillas are endangered. Western Lowland Gorillas are critically endangered. This is the highest threat category for a species. Illegal hunting of gorillas by humans, mainly for their bushmeat, poaching, mining, slash-and-burn agriculture, and war threaten the Western Lowland Gorillas. In addition, zoos and research organizations purchase some young captured gorillas.

A number of Western Lowland Gorillas are infected with the Ebola virus, which is depleting populations in protected areas to a point where it may be impossible for them to recover. The incurable Ebola virus has ended the lives of up to 90 percent of these great apes in some forest areas.

The estimated population of wild western lowland gorillas is about 110,000 and the estimated population of eastern lowland gorillas is 10,500. The gorilla’s numbers have declined by more than 60% over the last 20 to 25 years. Even if all of the threats to western lowland gorillas were removed, scientists calculate that the population would require some 75 years to recover.

Closely related to humans with 98% of their DNA identical to that of humans, gorillas are the largest members of the primate family and are closely related to humans.  Adult gorillas have 32 teeth, the same as humans. The Western Lowland Gorilla, especially males, have a strong body odor. The intensity of their smell varies with their mood and is part of their complex social behaviors. They have excellent color vision and sense of smell.

In the wild, they eat fruit, leaves, herbs, shrubs, and vines. Western lowland gorillas have the largest home ranges and travel the farthest of all gorilla subspecies because of their reliance on fruit. Gorillas do not drink water as they get adequate moisture from the foliage they consume. The only predators to the Western Lowland Gorilla are leopards and human beings.

Gorillas are social animals that live in groups (known as troops) of one dominant male, several females and their young. Group size varies, but it can be as low as two gorillas or even as high as 30. In the wild, each gorilla group has a territory that ranges over 10 to 15 square miles.

Western Lowland Gorillas are found in Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon and Nigeria as well as the Republic of Congo.

You can make a difference! Find a Way!

  • Learn about the crisis.
  • Buy timber and wood products from sustainable forest and wildlife management programs. By purchasing FSC-certified forest products, consumers, retailers, traders, and manufacturers help protect gorilla habitat by encouraging sustainable forestry and limiting illegal logging. Express your concerns to your local, state and national officials.
  • Read about the creation of a new national park in the Republic of Congo that is the latest step taken to preserve and protect the Western Lowland Gorilla.
  • Learn about the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) has established the Great Ape Survival Project (GRASP). This organization helps to identify the conservation initiatives required to save the species and to obtain political support and funding for its preservation.
  • Visit the gorillas! Money earned through gorilla tourism contributes significantly to the conservation of the species – providing funds for conservation projects and creating jobs and bringing other benefits to local communities living near gorillas. To visit the gorillas of Dzanga-Sangha in the Central African Republic, contact: info@dzanga-sangha.org.

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