Tuesday, 7 January 2014

#Apeweek Day 2 - The Gorilla (Gorilla gorilla / Gorilla beringei)

It is day two of #apeweek and I am very excited to be writing about Gorillas because I grew up reading about the legacy of Dian Fossey. Indeed it was the very first charity I was a member of, with my mother, and when I read Gorillas in the Mist, and watched the film, I knew I would forever be smitten with the plight of the Gorilla.

The Facts:
Size - Head and body length can be up to 180cm with their weight being between 90-180kg.
Appearance - Black or brownish grey coat, the adult males develop a silver back & a crest of bone & muscle on the top of their head.
Habitat - The tropical forests of Central Africa on either side of the Congo basin, found in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Rwanda, Uganda, Angola, Cameroon, Congo, Central African Republic (CAR), Equatorial Guinea (Eq.G), Gabon & Nigeria.
Diet - Fruit, leaves, flowers, seeds, stems, bark, roots & some invertebrates.
Life History - Gestation around 8-9 months, with sexual maturity being reached around 8-10 years and life span up to 50 years.
Behaviour - Groups of 5-60 mixed with males and females, not really territorial & make new nests at night with males on the ground and sometimes females and young in the trees.

There are four agreed subspecies, however some believe the Eastern and Western Lowland Gorillas are distant enough to be classified as separate species entirely. They are:

Mountain Gorilla

The Mountain Gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei) - found in the DRC, Rwanda and Uganda and classed as endangered on the IUCN red list. There are said to be fewer than 800 left in the wild and they have developed longer hair to cope with the colder temperatures. 

Eastern Lowland Gorilla

The Eastern Lowland Gorilla (Gorilla beringei graueri) - found in the DRC and also classed as endangered on the IUCN red list. Said to be fewer than 5,000 in the wild and are noted as being the largest of the Gorillas and therefore the largest primate on the earth. Adult males can reach up to 250KG and although similar to Mountain Gorillas they have shorter hair, narrower faces and rounder nostrils.

Western Lowland Gorilla

The Western Lowland Gorilla (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) - found in Angola, Cameroon, Congo, CAR, DRC, Eq.G & Gabon and classed as critically endangered on the IUCN red list. Estimated numbers are fewer than 200,000 and they also live in family groups. However, unlike the Eastern Lowland Gorillas the Western has been known to split up during the day and reunite in the evening to sleep. They are also known for they love of fruit that makes up a large part of their diet.

Cross River Gorilla

Finally the Cross River Gorilla (Gorilla gorilla diehli) - found only on the boarders of Cameroon and Nigeria and said to number fewer than 300; therefore the most endangered of any great ape. Like the Western Lowland Gorilla they are classed as critically endangered on the IUCN red list. They are very similar to the western, but their group sizes tend to be smaller. 

  • Habitat loss - more people, equals more farmland, equals tearing down of forest
  • Poaching - hunted for bushmeat, to use parts in witchcraft and to sell babies as pets
  • Civil unrest - many areas have suffered from long civil wars decemating natural resources
  • Disease - Man can spread diseases to Gorillas that they are not naturally protected from, click here
  • Logging - Legal and Illegal logging that is reducing the size of the Gorillas natural habitat making it harder and harder for them to survive and have stable populations.

Dian Fossey:
  • Born in San Francisco, in 1932. Her strong interest in animals led her to enter college as a pre-veterinary student. 
  • First trip to Africa in 1963. 
  • Returned to Africa in December 1966, to begin a long-term study of the mountain gorillas. She initially set up camp in the Democratic Republic of Congo (then Zaire), but due to political upheaval moved to Rwanda in 1967.
  • On September 24, 1967, Dian Fossey established the Karisoke Research Center, between Mt. Karisimbi and Mt. Visoke. The name "Karisoke" comes from  merging the names of the two volcanoes.
  • Dian Fossey was the first to habituate gorillas
    Dian Fossey’s objectives were to study gorilla ecology, demography and social organization. She found that in order to accomplish these goals, she needed to recognize individual gorillas. This required that the gorillas become accustomed to (or habituated to) her presence, so that she might get close enough to them to tell them apart. By imitating gorilla behaviors and vocalizations, Fossey began to gain their trust, and in 1970 an adult male gorilla she had named Peanuts reached out to touch her hand. 

  • Intense observations over thousands of hours enabled Dian Fossey to gain the gorillas’ trust and bring forth in her studies new knowledge about their behavior. Stories and photographs of her discoveries were published in National Geographic magazine and elsewhere.
  • In 1978, after one of Dian Fossey’s favorite gorillas, Digit, was killed by poachers, she established the Digit Fund to help raise money for gorilla protection efforts. The Digit Fund was later renamed the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International.
  • On Dec. 26, 1985, Dr. Dian Fossey was murdered while in her cabin at Karisoke.
  • In 1988, the life and work of Dr. Dian Fossey were portrayed in a movie based on her book. Sigourney Weaver starred as Fossey, and later became the honorary chairperson of what is now the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International.

Organisations working to protect Gorillas:


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