Of the many threats facing the endangered mountain gorilla, habitat loss is one of the most pressing. Trees in the Virunga range are often cut down for charcoal production. Here, a young mountain gorilla takes in the view from a tree branch in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
GOOD NEWS: Gorillas to Be Protected in New Congo National Park
by Andrea Thompson
The Republic of Congo has declared a new national park that conservationists hope with protect a core population of western lowland gorillas, a critically endangered species, as well as other threatened species, the Wildlife Conservation Society announced today (Jan. 31st, 2013).
The Ntokou-Pikounda National Park was finally created by the government on Dec. 28, 2012. It covers an area of 1,765 square miles (4,572 square kilometers) and includes about 15,000 gorillas, 8,000 elephants and 950 chimpanzees, two other species threatened by human activities, according to the statement…
Population of Endangered Mountain Gorillas Grows Slightly
by OurAmazingPlanet staff
he world’s mountain gorilla population has grown slightly to 880 animals, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) conservation group. That’s up from an estimated population of 781 animals in 2010.
The critically endangered animals live in only two places in the world — Uganada’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, and the Virunga Massif area, which spans parts of Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda.
The latest census counted 400 mountain gorillas living in Bwindi, while 480 animals were counted in the Virunga Massif in 2010…
Gorillas are the largest of the apes, primates that are close genetic relatives of chimpanzees and humans.Gorillas are ground dwellers that are found mostly in the tropical forests of Africa. There are two gorilla species (Gorilla gorilla and Gorilla beringei) and four subspecies, all of which endangered in the wild.
Gorillas are mainly herbivorous apes. A male gorilla can grow up to 6 feet (1.8 meters) in height and weigh around 480 pounds (220 kilograms), depending on the subspecies, while a female can grow up to around 5 feet (1.5 m) in height and weigh up to 215 pounds (98 kg). The lifespan of a gorilla is 35-50 years. Like humans, gorillas have 10 fingers and 10 toes, small ears on the side of their heads, 32 teeth and forward-looking eyes.
Gorillas have a distinctive body shape and their stomachs are larger than their chests. This is because of their enlarged intestines, which are necessary to digest the very bulky and fibrous vegetation that they eat..
Young Gorillas Observed Destroying Poacher’s Traps
by Stephen Messenger
For Rwanda’s population of Mountain gorillas, poaching remains one of the biggest threats to their long-term survival. But after decades of being a prime target for unlawful hunters, these critically endangered gorillas have apparently learned to outsmart them — and even the youngsters are getting in on the act.
This week, conservationists from Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund observed, for the first time ever, a pair of juvenile gorillas doing something remarkably clever: destroying sharp, wooden snares set out by poachers to trap them. Just days earlier, a gorilla had been killed in a similar snare nearby, which may have familiarized the youngsters with the workings of those cruel devices.
“We knew that gorillas do this but all of the reported cases in the past were carried out by adult gorillas, mostly silverbacks. Today, two juveniles and one blackback from Kuryama’s group worked together to deactivate two snares and how they did it demonstrated an impressive cognitive skill,” said Veronica Vecellio, a program director from the Fund…
Second in size only to the Amazon, the Congo rain forest—which extends across six African countries—is disappearing as a result of intense logging activity and farming, specifically for crops such as cassava and oil palm.
“Of all the endangered forest regions we’re talking about, [the Congo Basin] probably has the most challenging state governance anywhere,” Donovan said.
“There is violence in the Republic of the Congo and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and difficult challenges for virtually all the other countries in the region.”
For the first time ever, conservationists have captured video footage of Cross River gorillas in their natural environment, thanks to a camera trap secreted in a forest in Cameroon. The elusive gorillas are some of the most elusive animals on Earth. Fewer than 250 of the rare apes remain in the wild, restricted to forests on the Nigeria-Cameroon border. (via: Live Science)
Sequencing of Gorilla Genome Suggests Similarities
by Elizabeth Pennisi
Ever since the human genome was sequenced a decade ago, researchers have dreamed about deciphering DNA from our three great ape cousins as well. Now the final remaining genome, that of the gorilla, is in hand, and it reveals interesting connections between us and them. Surprisingly, parts of our genome are more similar to the gorilla’s than they are to the chimp’s, and a few of the same genes previously thought key to our unique evolution are key to theirs, too.
Today there are four groups of great apes: chimps and bonobos, humans, gorillas, and orangutans. The genome of the chimp—our closest relative—was published in 2005; the orangutan sequence came out in early 2011. Now researchers have analyzed the DNA of a western lowland gorilla named Kamilah, who lives at the San Diego Zoo. In addition, they sequenced DNA from three other gorillas, including one eastern lowland gorilla, a rare species estimated at only 20,000 individuals.
“It’s essential to have all of the great ape genomes in order to understand the features of our own genome that make humans unique,” says Gregory Wray, an evolutionary biologist at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, who was not involved in the study. Adds paleoanthropologist David Begun of the University of Toronto in Canada: “It will allow us to begin to identify genetic changes specific to humans since our divergence from chimps.”
Humans and apes are nearly identical in the vast majority of base pairs, or letters of the genetic code: The human genome is 1.37% different from the chimp’s; 1.75% different from the gorilla’s; and 3.4% different from the orangutan’s, researchers from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Hinxton, U.K., and their colleagues report today in Nature. Although chimps and humans are indeed closest kin, 15% of the human genome more closely matches the gorilla’s. Those genes’ activity patterns are similar too, says Sanger evolutionary genomicist and lead author of the study Aylwyn Scally: “Some of our functional biology is more gorillalike than chimplike.”…
(read more: Science NOW) (image: San Diego Safari Park)
Grinning gorillas could help explain the origins of human laughter
by Robert T. Gonzales
Whether you’re laughing involuntarily at a joke, or smiling politely at a stranger’s unfunny anecdote, your facial expressions play an important role in communicating with those around you.
Now, an investigation into the playtime behavior of gorillas reveals that they use facial expressions akin to our smiles and grins to reassure friends of their non-violent intentions. The results, researchers say, could help point to the origins of human guffaws. Researchers have long believed that gorillas, like humans, use facial cues to communicate information. Researcher Bridget Waller — an evolutionary psychologist at the University of Portsmouth — studies facial expressions in primates to uncover the evolutionary origins of human smiling and laughter…
There are roughly 700 mountain gorillas remaining on Earth, and nearly half live in the forests of the Virunga mountains in central Africa. These gorillas live on the green, volcanic slopes of Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo—areas that have seen much human violence from which the gorillas have not escaped unscathed.
Many conservation initiatives are meant to aid mountain gorillas, and it is believed that their numbers may be steady or slowly increasing. Still they continue to face major threats from habitat loss and poaching.
Mountain gorillas have longer hair and shorter arms than their lowland cousins. They also tend to be a bit larger than other gorillas…
Baby Mountain Gorrilla (Gorilla b. beringei), Uganda
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is located in the southwestern corner of Uganda. The Park is 33.7 sq. km and consists of the partly forested slopes of three extinct volcanoes. From far away, the huge cones of the virunga volcanoes dominate the landscape and beckon you as you approach.
Mgahinga Park has great biological importance because throughout the climatic changes of the Pleistocene ice ages, mountains such as these provided a refuge for mountain plants and animals, which moved up or down the slopes as climate became warmer or cooler. The Virungas are home to a large variety of wildlife, including about half the world’s critically endangered mountain gorillas.