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Gorillas – our Intelligent, Beautiful, Endangered Cousins

Gorilla Facts

Gorillas are the largest apes and one of the three ape species genetically closest to humans (the others being chimpanzees and bonobos). They are intelligent and display empathy and emotions, such as grieving for their dead offspring. Gorillas are only found in the wild in central Africa, in countries like Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Uganda, Central African Republic, Cameroon, and Nigeria. There are four gorilla sub-species, two of which are listed as endangered or critically endangered. Western Lowland Gorillas are the most common, while the least common are the Critically Endangered Cross River Gorillas numbering only around 250 individuals.

 

Population Threats

Gorillas have a long reproductive cycle, giving birth to only one (or sometimes two) babies every four to six years, causing their populations to struggle to recover if reduced. There are many threats to their existence. Threats include their living in countries with continued internal conflict and war, so protecting them is difficult and dangerous. Corporations are moving into gorilla habitats to log or mine or clear forest for agriculture. Gorillas are susceptible to similar diseases to humans, so can get ill when in contact with humans. For example, the Ebola virus has been devastating to their numbers. Furthermore, gorillas are hunted for bushmeat in some areas. Consequently they need protection and help.

 

Social Animals 

They are highly intelligent and use tools to interact with their environments, such as using a long branch to test the depth of water in a river before wading in.   Gorillas are mostly herbivores, their diet consisting of leaves and bark, fruit/berries, plus ants and other insects. They live in social groups, with a dominant male leader (often referred to as the “Silverback” due to the growth of silver/grey fur on the backs of males and particularly on the dominant male).

 

Koko

Koko, a 45 year old female, is the World’s most famous gorilla. She was taught a modified version of sign language and can communicate between 1000-2000 English words. As a result of love and education, Koko is renowned for her signing discussions with humans, her kitten companions, and her artwork.  http://www.koko.org/meet_koko  The Gorilla Foundation (an established charity) look after Koko. They undertake ongoing communication research, and provide education about gorillas to the public. http://www.koko.org/

Picture credit: FreeImages.com/ErikJager

Sources:

Wild gorillas seen to use tools (BBC)

Endangered Species International

The Gorilla Organization

The Gorilla Foundation – Koko

The amazing emotional intelligence of our primate cousins (The Ecologist)

Gorilla (World Wide Fund for Nature)

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