Western lowland gorilla

Found in the vast lowland forests of central Africa, the western lowland gorilla is by far the most widespread and numerous of all gorillas.
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Western Lowland Gorilla (), silverback male. Orphaned gorillas reintroduced into the wild; Gabon and Congo.
© Martin Harvey / WWF-Canon

Key facts

  • Common names

    Western lowland gorilla; Gorille occidental de plaine (Fr); Gorila (Sp)

  • Scientific name

    Gorilla gorilla gorilla

  • Location

    Lowland tropical forests of central Africa

  • Population

    Possibly 100,000 individuals

  • Status

    Critically Endangered

    More

Physical description 

Western lowland gorillas are smaller and lighter than the other gorilla subspecies, with short hair, a wider skull and a more pronounced brow ridge. The ears also appear small in relation to the head. There is also a more pronounced difference between the sexes, with females being almost half the size of silverbacks.

Colour: Brownish-grey coat with a red or auburn crest. Adult males have a patch of whitish hair that extends onto the thighs, grading into the black body color.

Feeding on the fruits of almost 100 tree species

The western lowland gorilla occurs in the rainforests of central Africa, specifically in lowland forest and swamp forest from sea level to about 1,600m.

Social structure 
The western lowland gorilla has the smallest family groups of all gorillas, averaging 4-8 members.

Diet
Gorillas are mainly herbivorous; their staple foods are pith, shoots and leaves. Fruits are also an important component of western lowland gorillas’ diet and are consumed according to their seasonal availability. Oover 100 fruit species have been recorded in their diet. 

In drier months, when fruits are scarce, gorillas supplement their diet with leaves, bark and rotten wood.  They have also been know to eat termites and weaver ants.

 / ©: Martin HARVEY / WWF-Canon
Western Lowland Gorilla (Gorilla gorilla gorilla), silverback male. Stem-peeling is a favourite feeding technique.
© Martin HARVEY / WWF-Canon

Population and distribution

The western lowland gorilla is the most widespread and numerous of the four gorilla subspecies.

No accurate estimates of their numbers are possible, as these elusive apes inhabit some of Africa’s densest and most remote rainforests. However, the total population is thought to number up to 100,000 individuals.

In some areas they occur in surprisingly high densities – like in remote swamps or areas with dense leafy growth where they’ve been recorded at exceptionally high densities of almost 10 individuals per square kilometer.

The forests of Congo (Brazzaville) are currently considered to harbour the major population of western lowland gorillas, which are protected by the remoteness of the large, swampy forest areas.

Habitat

Major habitat type
Tropical and Subtropical Moist Broadleaf Forests

Biogeographic realm
Afrotropical

Range States
Cameroon, Central African Republic (CAR), Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Congo, Angola (Cabinda)

Geographical Location
Central Africa

Ecological Region
Congolian Coastal Forests, Western Congo Basin Moist Forests

What are the main threats?

Hunting and trade
Hunting is the main threat to western lowland gorillas. Gorillas are sought after as food (bushmeat) and pets, and their body parts are used in medicine and as magical charms.

The impact of hunting on gorilla population has proven to be dramatic. In North East Congo, it has been estimated that approximately 5% of gorillas are killed by hunters each year.

Despite national and international laws prohibit the hunting and capture of gorillas throughout their range, enforcement is weak and existing legislation inadequate.

Habitat loss and degradation 
Timber is a major export in Central Africa. Vast areas of rainforest in the western lowland gorilla's habitat in the Congo Basin have been destroyed or leased out to European and Asian logging companies. 

The increase in timber extraction and the opening of once remote forest areas, together with the easy transport provided by logging vehicles to distant markets, have also facilitated the bushmeat trade.

Disease

Central Africa, the home of western lowland gorillas, has been dramatically affected by Ebola hemorrhagic fever. Some scientists estimate that Ebola has killed about one-third of the wild gorilla population here, mainly western lowland gorillas. Evidence suggests that the virus may still be moving through the Congo Basin, placing a large gorilla population at risk.

DO NOT USE THIS IMAGE. WWF ONLY HAS SINGLE-USE RIGHTS FOR THIS IMAGE. / ©: Pierre Rouquet (used with kind permission)
Ebola is a significant threat to gorilla populations in Central Africa.
© Pierre Rouquet (used with kind permission)
Logging in the Congo river basin forest. China is the largest consumer of logs from the DRC, buying ... / ©: Riccardo Pravettoni / Sources: Global Forest Watch, Bushmeat Interactive Map, accessed 23-02-2010; IUCN, 2009; CMS Gorilla Agreement, 2007, web published at http://www.naturalsciences.be/science/projects/gorilla, accessed in March 2010; WHRC, Scientists Using Remote Sensing Tools to Study Expansion of Industrial Logging in Central Africa, 2007.
Logging in the Congo river basin forest. China is the largest consumer of logs from the DRC, buying near 38% of the roundwood produced in official statistics in 2008 (Ministère des Eaux, Forêts, Chasses et Pêches du DRC, 2009). However, the official numbers only reflect approximately half of what is being cut, the remaining illegally, often transported across borders to neighboring countries.
© Riccardo Pravettoni / Sources: Global Forest Watch, Bushmeat Interactive Map, accessed 23-02-2010; IUCN, 2009; CMS Gorilla Agreement, 2007, web published at http://www.naturalsciences.be/science/projects/gorilla, accessed in March 2010; WHRC, Scientists Using Remote Sensing Tools to Study Expansion of Industrial Logging in Central Africa, 2007.

What is WWF doing?

WWF's African Great Apes Programme is engaged in a number of conservation measures to ensure the survival of all gorilla populations.

Specific work for western lowland gorillas focuses on the Sangha Tri-National collaboration, a trans-border initiative covering 36,000km² of protected areas: the Dzanga Sangha Protected Area complex in the Central African Republic, neighboring Nouabale-Ndoki National Park in the Republic of Congo, and Lobeke National Park in Cameroon.

Supported by the World Bank/WWF alliance, WCS, GTZ, CARPE (USAID) and the French Cooperation, the initiative aims to enhance the conservation efforts among the three countries.

Examples of projects include:
  • Strengthening protected areas that harbor western lowland gorillas and other threatened species in the Republic of Congo.
     
  • Supporting the gorilla tracking program in the Dzanga Sangha Protected Area complex. 
     
  • Promoting sustainable development of the Dzanga Sangha Protected Area complex, including through developing ecotourism and a multiple-use reserve, where human activities and forest exploitation are controlled. 
     
  • Adapting the human Ebola vaccine to help save gorillas

» WWF's work to save gorillas
» WWF African Great Apes Programme
» Work in the Dzanga Sangha Protected Area complex
» Work in the Congo Basin

Priority species

Gorillas and other great apes are a priority species. WWF treats priority species as one of the most ecologically, economically and/or culturally important species on our planet. As such, we are working to ensure gorillas can live and thrive in their natural habitats.

How you can help

  • Visit the gorillas! Money earned through gorilla tourism contributes significantly to the conservation of the species – providing funds for  conservation projects and creating jobs and bringing other benefits to local communities living near gorillas. To visit the gorillas of Dzanga-Sangha in Central African Republic, contact: info@dzanga-sangha.org.
     
  • Give a gift! Buy a "Gorilla's Paradise" WWF gift and help support the Gamba Complex of protected areas in Gabon – home to western lowland gorillas as well as hippos, elephants and much more.

  • Buy sustainable wood. By purchasing FSC-certified forest products, consumers, retailers, traders, and manufacturers help protect gorilla habitat by encouraging sustainable forestry and limiting illegal logging. Without the FSC label, your timber may well stem from illegal or controversial sources in central Africa.
     
  • Donate to WWF to help support our great ape conservation work.
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Did you know...

    • Female western lowland gorillas do not start reproducing until they are around 9 years old. They generally have one offspring every 5 years.
  • Scientific classification

    Kingdom: Animalia
    Phylum: Chordata
    Class: Mammalia
    Order: Primates
    Family: Hominidae
    Genus: Gorilla
    Species: G. gorilla
    Subspecies: G. g. gorilla

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