There are two species of gorilla, the Western Lowland Gorilla, and the Eastern Lowland Gorilla. The Eastern Lowland Gorilla is divided into two subspecies, the Mountain Gorillas, and Grauer's Gorillas. Mac was a Grauer Gorilla. If you saw him, that was very special, since when Mac died in 2004, there were only three Eastern Lowland Gorillas in captivity in the world!
Grauer's gorillas are the largest primate in the world, with the male sometimes weighing close to 500 pounds. This type of gorilla eats more fruit than the mountain gorilla. Grauer's gorillas live in the forests of the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in central Africa. This area is recognized as one of Africa’s most important areas for biodiversity conservation.
The mountain gorilla population has been increasing. However, the Grauer's gorilla population has been decreasing. In the mid-1990's, wild Grauer’s gorillas were estimated at around 17,000 individuals. It is now thought that only about 2,000 to 10,000 are left. It is hard to know for sure because of the insecurity in the area, which makes it very hard to do accurate counts. Grauer's gorillas are one of the most endangered primates in the world. In fact, they are the only primate, and only ape, to have made the International Union of the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) list of the most 25 most-endangered primates in the world.
This area is rich in minerals like coltan that is used in electronics like cell phones. With a huge increase in cell phones, there is a higher increase in the amount of coltan taken from DRC. Thousands of people came into the protected areas to mine coltan for the phones. The tourism in this areas has now crashed by about 90%.
Gorillas are poached for bushmeat, and the young ones are sold for pets. Wealthy people want the meat as a delicacy. This happens even though it is illegal to kill or capture a gorilla in the DRC.
Gorillas are different from orangutans and chimpanzees. If a gorilla loses their mother, most of the time the baby just gives up and dies. They need their mother. Whereas, baby orangutans and chimpanzees often still survive if they lose their mom.
An organization called the Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education Center (GRACE) which was started in 2012 is working hard trying to rehabilitate Grauer's Gorillas that have been confiscated. These are gorillas that were tough and didn't give up. The gorillas can receive the care they need and also learn the skills needed for reintroduction back into the wild. GRACE is the only group rehabilitating the Grauer's gorillas. They built some buildings to help to rehabilitate orphaned gorillas. Everything was built by hand. The ground there is very rocky, and removing the rock was a major challenge. They had to heat up the rock and then break it apart.
One time there was a gorilla that lived by herself for three years. When she came to GRACE, she was immediately welcomed by the group of gorillas living there. She hadn't had the experience of being carried around by her mother. So when she came, she draped over a female gorilla to ride on her. It was touching to see the photographs of this episode given in a presentation at the Houston Zoo by Dr. Sonya Kahlenberg, Executive Director of GRACE.
Another story is of a gorilla named Amani which means peace. She had been stuffed into a bag and was very badly dehydrated with an infected bullet wound in her right leg. Since coming to GRACE, she is flourishing and lives up to her name "peace." She is one of the most gentle gorillas in the group.
GRACE is also educating the community about alternatives to bushmeat. They are empowering the community to take conservation into their own hands.
One positive thing we can do to help is to recycle our cell phones. One place where you can bring your phone to recycle is the Houston Zoo. What a great first step we can do! Also, if you want to donate, go to http://gracegorillas.org/how-to-help/. #gorilla #cellphones