Gorillas like other primates have different types which include the popular mountain gorillas, the western low land, and the eastern low land gorillas. These three subspecies of gorillas live in a limited range of habitats and ecosystems typically tropical and subtropical equatorial rain forests in Africa for example mountain gorillas live only in the Virunga mountains region which is found within the western arm of the great East African rift valley in countries of Uganda, Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo and Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National park in Uganda. The western and eastern low land gorillas live in central and in some few West African countries.
Mountain gorillas are critically endangered according to the IUCN red list of species; this is due to their few numbers left in the wild. Estimates vary depending on world conservation bodies such as WWF, AWF that have carried out ground surveys in Uganda, Rwanda, and DRC but it’s well known there are less than 900 mountain gorillas living in the wild. Similarly, there are no accurate estimates of western and eastern low land gorilla numbers but are said to be widely distributed in central and few of west African dense and remote low land equatorial rain forests but regarded as endangered.
East Africa, central and few west African countries where the subspecies of gorillas live are among the densely populated regions with an estimated 300 people living per square km. this is partly because of the vast natural resources including forests, land, minerals, and water. This gives an impression of the intensive human activities taking place in the gorilla habitats such as large-scale agriculture, commercial timber harvesting, mining, construction of water dams, and the increasing industrial infrastructures including roads and urban centers.
Scientists and worldwide conservation bodies such as the international animal rescue foundation, African Wildlife Foundation (AWF), and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) warn about the rapid increase of human-induced practices such as forest degradation, poaching among other factors would lead to extinction of gorillas from planet earth if there is little being done to stop the bad actions and resort to conservation. In addition, gorillas live in areas where poverty levels are quite high sometimes resulting in civil conflicts which are detrimental to the survival of gorillas.
Threats to gorillas
Poaching and the illegal trading of species is a serious threat to the survival of gorillas. Gorillas are killed for bushmeat that is in high demand especially in urban centers for commercial sale. Snare trapping is also a common technique used to hunt down the species which often at times is intended to capture other wildlife but end up killing gorillas. Due to the fact gorillas are similar to humans sharing about 95% of their DNA with humans, their reproductive system is low not matching the rate at which they are being poached and killed hence it could easily wipe the gorilla population from the planet earth. Despite efforts by the convention on international trading of endangered species (CITES) to reduce poaching of such primates, numbers of western and eastern low land gorillas continue to decline in central and few west African countries.
On an important note, mountain gorillas are the only critically endangered primates increasing in numbers due to strong joint conservation between Uganda, Rwanda, and the democratic republic of Congo. Gorilla tourism is one of the popular strategies paving way for the thriving of mountain gorillas where local communities have been involved in protection and conservation. This came after decades of poaching that had reduced the mountain gorilla population at the same time opened the eyes of many conservationists who came to their rescue.
Habitat loss and fragmentation
Gorillas happen to live in rich fertile lands of tropical equatorial climate which is favorable for agriculture and farming which have greatly reduced forests kin addition to poverty forces people to look for ways of survival and resort to unsustainable practices such as subsistence farming and the result is fragmented habitats where gorillas can hardly survive. For instance, in Eastern DRC poverty is partly a contributing factor to the intensified fighting and civil wars which have not only reduced habitats but also killing of gorillas.
Commercial timber harvesting, especially in West Africa and the DR Congo river basin by European timber companies, is a major driver of deforestation as the market for forest products like paper and wood increases. This has reduced land quality on top of reducing the already limited range of gorillas habitats. To make matters worse in areas where natural forest cover is reducing, large-scale palm oil plantations are posing a great danger to the lives of the gorilla population and the other notable increase of exotic species of plants and trees being planted for commercial purposes.
The spread of human infectious diseases
As already noted that gorillas have about 98% of their genes similar to that of humans which makes them prone to contracting human infectious diseases that eventually lead to the death of gorillas, such diseases include influenza, diarrhea, coughs. Few cases have been noted where gorillas have contracted human diseases which affect the respiratory system of gorillas according to gorilla doctors. Notably, in the Virunga region, the numbers of gorillas dying from human diseases have reduced because of the regular monitoring of gorilla health by doctors and rangers. Sick gorillas are treated and released back to the wild. Ebola outbreak in West Africa during 2002 and 2003 is also known to have killed few western low land gorillas and gorilla doctors find it hard to prevent such epidemics which make human infectious diseases a serious threat that would wipe gorillas off from the face of the earth. On gorilla treks, tourists have to keep a distance of at least 7 meters from the gorillas so that to avoid the spread of communicable diseases.
Civil wars and conflicts are also major threats to gorillas especially in some parts of the Central African Republic and eastern DRC. Several Rebel groups fighting for resources like minerals and timber have intensified deforestation and environmental degradation which reduces habitat for gorillas at the same halting conservation efforts. For instance, rangers have been murdered in Kahuzi Biega national park in DRC as they stand to protect gorillas. Gorillas have also been poached and killed as desperate and hungry rebels look for bushmeat as food. Such detrimental acts have prompted countries like Rwanda, Uganda, and DRC to introduce transboundary management of protected areas increasing security so as to disarm rebels and restore protected areas hoping to conserve gorillas that are on the verge of extinction.
Despite the serious threats facing gorillas, conservation efforts have been increased in countries where gorillas live for instance mountain gorilla tourism in Rwanda, Uganda and DRC have led to increasing in mountain gorillas numbers and they are the only critically endangered species increasing in number. Revenue proceeds from tourism are used to provide alternative resources like forests, food, and vegetable growing, clean water and employment opportunities that came along with such projects have reduced encroachment paving way for gorillas to thrive in the wild.