Gorilla Facts

Some facts about Western gorillas.

Wild gorillas live in Central Africa, in the band of lush forest that straddles the Equator. Gorilla range spans about 1500m (2,400km), from Uganda on the east to Nigeria on the west: roughly the distance between the East Coast of the United States and the Rocky Mountains (or for those in Europe, the distance between London and Moscow). Within gorillas there are two major geographic groups: Eastern gorillas and Western gorillas. Western gorillas show a variety of genetic, morphological, behavioral and ecological traits that are different from the better known Eastern gorillas. Whether or not Western gorillas constitute a distinct species is a controversial issue that has yet to be resolved.

Eastern gorillas include very small mountain populations (the famous Mountain gorillas) in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park, Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and Mgahinga National Park, and the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Virunga National Park. A slightly larger population of the eastern lowland gorillas are found in Kahuzi Biega National Park and Maiko National Park of DRC east of the Congo River. Eastern gorilla populations are highly fragmented and severely threatened by grazing and forest conversion to agriculture, a consequence of the explosive growth of human populations in the region over the last half century. Over the last decade, a flood of refugees and general lawlessness resulting from civil strife in Rwanda and DRC have also created an epidemic of gorilla hunting that has had a severe impact Eastern lowland gorilla populations.

Although as a recently as a century ago Eastern and Western gorillas were only separated by a couple of hundred miles, Western gorilla range now begins nearly 750m (1200km) to the west of Eastern gorilla range: roughly the distance between New York and Chicago (London and Rome). On the periphery of Western Gorilla range (for example, Nigeria, DRC, and the Cabinda enclave of Angola) small remnant populations are highly threatened by both habitat conversion (grazing & agriculture) and hunting. However most Eastern gorillas, in fact most of the world’s gorillas, live in areas with relatively low human population density. Three countries house the bulk of remaining gorillas. The small country of Gabon probably has the most, with substantial populations also in Congo Republic (Congo Brazzaville) and Cameroon. The Central African Republic and Equatorial Guinea have smaller, but appreciable populations. Thought to be relatively safe as recently as a decade ago, these populations have suffered from exploding commercial market in gorilla meat. Exactly how many Western gorillas remain in these countries is very unclear, but all signs are that the populations have been heavily depleted over the last decade. A regionwide survey to assess gorilla numbers and distribution is probably the second immediate conservation priority behind increased law enforcement. Building a system of well managed protected areas (parks and reserves) is the highest medium to long term priority.