A couple of days ago I posted about Ihoho, our adopted baby mountain gorilla. Here is the little cutie, pictured above with one of his older cousins, and an adult mountain gorilla too ;).
With this post, I wanted to tell you more about the challenges he faces, and the issues that are threatening every wild mountain gorilla today.
How many mountain gorillas are left?
A precious few. The WWF (World Wildlife Fund) estimates that there are only around 780 Mountain Gorillas left in the wild today. Now, before we just gloss over that number… consider that you could now sit every remaining mountain gorilla alive today in London’s Garrick Theatre for an evening’s performance of 12 Angry Men, with 20 seats to spare.
What kind of danger do mountain gorillas face?
The Mountain Gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei) is considered to be “Critically Endangered” as per the IUCN Red List; in other words, this species is facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild in the immediate future. This is the highest risk class before “extinct in the wild”. The Red List graphic below shows the “CR” category as the furthest a species can get before becoming extinct in the wild.
Why are the mountain gorillas vanishing?
The DNA of gorillas is very similar to that of a human, from 95–99% depending on what is counted. What this means is that they are vulnerable to many of the same diseases, yet without the immunological coping mechanisms to ward off viruses or harmful pathogens when they are exposed to human tourists, domestic animals and livestock – which is increasing as humans encroach on their habitats.
Wild mountain gorillas can only be found in the mountain ranges which span the borders of Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Pictured below is a satellite image of Volcanoes National Park, which borders these three countries. Expanding human settlement, agriculture and conflicts encroach upon preciously remote gorilla habitats. Fragmentation of forested areas results in isolation of gorilla groups between each other, reducing genetic diversity. Some signs of inbreeding are already appearing in younger gorillas, including webbed hands and feet.
Gorillas, to this day, are the target of poachers to be sold as trophies (heads and hand ashtrays), zoos, and even food. Infant Gorillas are the target of a lucrative illegal pet trade, which often results in the killing of their adult parents. Even when they are not the target, Gorillas are maimed or killed by traps set for other animals.
War and unrest
The few remaining Mountain Gorillas live in a part of Africa that has many refugee problems as a result of war and unrest. This results in their habitat destruction by the creation of new settlements and farms, and water extraction from their feeding grounds. Furthermore, gorillas have been hunted to feed displaced people, the victims of symbolic attacks against conservation organisations, and fallen by land mines placed along forest paths.
Why are we adopting a mountain gorilla?
When considering a beneficiary charity for Paradise Lost in Second Life, Harvey and I thought long and hard about our options. We feel that the plight of the mountain gorillas is clearly linked to the themes embedded in Paradise Lost, which I’ll get into in my next post.