Western Lowland Gorilla

Gorilla Discovery in Northern Congo Video
WCS researcher Emma Stokes recounts the discovery of 125,000 gorillas in northern Congo.
©WCS
Western Lowland Gorilla Photo
Western lowland gorillas are the most numerous of the four gorilla subspecies.
©R. Butler/mongabay.com

Western lowland gorillas dwell in the rainforests of equatorial Africa. In 2008, WCS made an amazing discovery of 125,000 western lowland gorillas living in northern Republic of Congo. These new populations, far larger than previously thought, provide new hope for the future of the species. However, western lowland gorillas remain critically endangered and their numbers continue to decline because of poaching, habitat destruction, and disease.

Western lowland gorillas are primarily vegetarians, eating fruits and plants and occasionally consuming insects—if they can be easily caught. Like other subspecies of gorilla, the western lowland gorilla spends most of its time on the ground but will climb trees to feed on ripe fruits and to make a sleeping nest.

Gorillas do not produce a great many offspring, since the females do not begin reproducing until age 9 or 10 and infants are dependent upon their mothers for up to five years. Gorillas typically live in family groups, consisting of several adult females and their offspring. The groups are led and protected by a dominant male known as a “silverback.”

Fast Facts

Scientific NameGorilla gorilla gorilla
  • This is the subspecies of gorilla usually found in zoos.
  • A male western lowland gorilla can stand 6 feet tall and weigh up to 400 pounds.
  • Western lowland gorillas are currently more numerous than mountain and eastern lowland gorillas combined.

Challenges

Gorillas are the largest and most vulnerable of humankind’s three closest relatives, the African apes. Gorillas face three grave threats: hunting to supply bushmeat to urban markets; habitat destruction through logging, mining, and slash-and-burn agriculture; and devastating infectious diseases.

Western lowland gorilla habitat is sparsely populated by humans, and, traditionally, indigenous forest communities have shared the forest in harmony with apes. However, the recent expansion of commercial timber exploitation across the region has brought considerable demographic and socio-economic change and threatened human-gorilla coexistence. Access routes created for the timber industry facilitate the transport of bushmeat from remote forest areas to urban markets, and commercial hunting for bushmeat now represents the most significant threat to western lowland gorillas across their range. The Ebola virus is currently a major threat in the northern border area of Gabon and Republic of Congo, where the majority of western lowland gorillas live. In addition to the devastating human fatalities, the disease has the potential to eliminate the largest remaining populations of this ape.

WCS Responds

WCS has been working to protect the western lowland gorilla since the 1970s by supporting conservation and applied research throughout Central Africa. We have established national projects to protect the species in Gabon, Cameroon, and Republic of Congo, which together harbor the largest populations of gorillas in Africa.

Throughout the Congo Basin, we are working to conserve the western lowland gorilla by collaborating with indigenous groups and the private sector to establish wildlife management programs at both the local community and government level. WCS field veterinarians and staff run gorilla health monitoring programs in a number of sites across Gabon and Republic of Congo to understand the patterns of Ebola virus transmission and promote protective measures from the ground up.

WCS is working to reduce the threat of bushmeat hunting by supporting law enforcement programs in the Republic of Congo, Cameroon, and Gabon. Our conservation efforts incorporate education and outreach programs that focus on the bushmeat trade, and target both local communities and regional urban markets. We are working to help residents of large logging towns find alternative sources of protein to slow the consumption of bushmeat.

WCS Projects

Logging Concession in Congo

WCS works with the CIB logging company to reduce the pressures on gorillas, elephants, and other endangered wildlife in four timber concessions and to control the trade in bushmeat. This collaborative project is called PROGEPP: the Project for Ecosystem Management in the Nouabalé-Ndoki Periphery Area.

Ebola Hemorrhagic Fever Virus

Throughout Ebola high-risk zones, our researchers assess great ape health and improve Ebola prevention awareness in remote communities.

From the Newsroom

New Park Protects 15,000 GorillasJanuary 31, 2013

The Republic of Congo has just announced creation of a new national park that protects some 15,000 western lowland gorillas. Ntokou-Pikounda National Park also provides safe harbor for an estimated 800 elephants and 950 chimpanzees, as well as a remote swamp WCS researchers call the "Green Abyss."

How to Stop Wildlife Poachers May 25, 2012

WCS VP for Species Conservation Liz Bennett details efforts to combat the illegal wildlife trade and highlights the urgent need for additional security forces to slow and ultimately reverse the decimation of myriad charismatic species.

Sizing Up Congo’s SilverbacksMay 1, 2012

Researchers working in the Republic of Congo find that bigger adult male western lowland gorillas have a better chance of attracting mates and raising healthy offspring. The study looked at overall body length and the size of head crest and gluteal muscles in 19 silverbacks at Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park.

A Ripple in an Ape OasisMarch 28, 2011

A WCS census confirms a healthy population of western lowland gorillas in and around Cameroon’s Deng Deng National Park.

Joseph Mulema Wins Award for Rare Gorilla ConservationJune 15, 2010

The International Primatological Society grants their 2010 Charles Southwick Award to WCS's Joseph Mulema for his work to protect Cross River gorillas in Cameroon.

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