Eastern Gorilla Gorilla beringei

We don't know how many mountain gorillas live in the wild. Here's why

Eastern Gorilla Gorilla beringei

Critically Endangered

Congo, The Democratic Republic of the; Rwanda; Uganda

Gorillas are some of the most powerful and striking animals in the world. Not only for their size and force, but also for their gentle human-like behavior. They play a crucial role in local biodiversity, roaming through large territories and helping, for example, to spread the seeds of the fruit they consume. Eastern Gorillas are found in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), northwest Rwanda and southwest Uganda.

Eastern Gorillas are powerful yet gentle. They are critically endangered in #Uganda #Congo #Rwanda on @IUCNredlist due to complex threats incl. #poaching #palmoil #deforestation. You can protect them when you #Boycott4Wildlife

Previously estimated to number around 16,900 individuals, recent surveys show that Grauer’s Gorilla numbers have dropped to only 3,800 individuals – a 77% reduction in just one generation (ibid.) This rate of population loss is almost three times above that which qualifies a species as Critically Endangered.

IUCN red list

Eastern Gorillas (Gorilla beringei) live in the mountainous forests of eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, northwest Rwanda and southwest Uganda. This region was the epicentre of Africa’s “world war”, to which Gorillas have also fallen victim. The Mountain Gorilla subspecies (Gorilla beringei beringei), was listed as Critically Endangered since 1996. Although a drastic reduction of the Grauer’s Gorilla subspecies (Gorilla beringei graueri), has long been suspected, quantitative evidence of the decline has been lacking (Robbins and Williamson 2008). During the past 20 years, Grauer’s Gorillas have been severely affected by human activities, most notably poaching for bushmeat associated with artisanal mining camps and for commercial trade (Plumptre et al. 2016). This illegal hunting has been facilitated by a proliferation of firearms resulting from widespread insecurity in the region. Previously estimated to number around 16,900 individuals, recent surveys show that Grauer’s Gorilla numbers have dropped to only 3,800 individuals – a 77% reduction in just one generation (ibid.) This rate of population loss is almost three times above that which qualifies a species as Critically Endangered.

Mountain Gorillas have been faring substantially better; one of the two subpopulations is recovering from an all-time low in the 1980s, making Mountain Gorillas the only great ape taxon that has been increasing in number (Gray et al. 2013). A 2015–2016, survey of the Virunga population has confirmed that it is still growing and has now increased to over 600 individuals, bringing the total population to roughly 1,000 (Hickey et al. 2018).

Grauer’s Gorillas continue to decline at an average rate of 5% per year (Plumptre et al. 2016). Even with the growth of the Mountain Gorilla subspecies, the overall decline of the Eastern Gorilla species is expected to exceed 80% over three generations due to the high levels of poaching, loss of habitat as human populations expand, and civil unrest and lawlessness in parts of this species’ geographic range. If unabated, in 2054, only 14% of the 1994 population will remain. Therefore, Eastern Gorillas qualify as Critically Endangered under criterion A (A4bcd).

Diet

Diets of Eastern Gorillas vary greatly with elevation and the availability of food. Mountain Gorillas are largely herbivorous and feed on stems, pith, leaves, bark, and occasionally ants. Their favouritge food items are wild celery, thistles, nettles, bedstraw, wood and roots. Both subspecies feed almost exclusively on young bamboo shoots when they are in season twice a year. Gorillas at lower elevations have a more diverse and seasonal diet. Both Grauer’s Gorillas in lowland forest and Bwindi Gorillas are frugivorous.

Eastern Gorillas are diurnal and semi-terrestrial. After waking, they feed intensively and then alternate rest, travelling and feeding until night-time. All Gorillas build nests to sleep in, some in trees, but the majority of their nests are on the ground. Gorillas are not territorial, and there is extensive overlap between the annual home ranges of different groups, which vary in size from 6–40 km².

Threats

Poaching– Despite the fact that all killing, capture or consumption of great apes is illegal, hunting represents the greatest threat to Grauer’s Gorillas (Plumptre et al. 2016).

Habitat loss and degradation – Agricultural and pastoral activities are leading to continued loss and fragmentation of Gorilla habitat in DRC. At present, there is no commercial logging in the Eastern Gorilla’s range, but there is continuous artisanal extraction of resources, which puts added stress on natural habitats. Illegal mining has decimated the lowlands of Kahuzi-Biega National Park, a Grauer’s Gorilla stronghold. Destruction of forest for timber, charcoal production and agriculture continues to threaten the isolated Gorilla populations that persist in North Kivu and the Itombwe Massif.

Civil unrest – For two decades, refugees, internally-displaced people and numerous armed groups have placed enormous pressure on DRC’s forests through uncontrolled habitat conversion for farmland, harvesting of firewood, timber extraction and mining.

Climate change – Climate change is predicted to impact the forests of the Albertine Rift escarpment, leading to the upslope migration of species and key Gorilla habitat, notably montane forest (Ayebare et al. 2013). Increased temperatures and modified rainfall patterns are also likely to result in changes in food availability and habitat quality (McGahey et al. 2013).


Support the conservation of this species

Uganda Wildlife Authority

Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN)

Virunga National Park

Further Information

iucn-rating-critically-endangered

Plumptre, A., Robbins, M.M. & Williamson, E.A. 2019. Gorilla beringei. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2019: e.T39994A115576640. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2019-1.RLTS.T39994A115576640.en. Downloaded on 11 March 2021.

Photography by Dalida Innes Wildlife photography

Art by Oscar Frederick Welsh


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Published by Palm Oil Detectives

Hi, I’m Palm Oil Detective’s Editor in Chief. Palm Oil Detectives is partly a consumer website about palm oil in products and partly an online community for writers, scientists, conservationists, artists and musicians to showcase their work and express their love for endangered species. I have a strong voice for creatures great and small threatened by deforestation. With our collective power we can shift the greed of the retail and industrial agriculture sectors and through strong campaigning we can stop them cutting down forests. Be bold! Be courageous! Join the #Boycott4Wildlife and stand up for the animals with your supermarket choices

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