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Gorilla Gifts

Gorillas are the largest of the living primates. They are ground-dwelling and predominantly herbivorous. They inhabit the forests of central Africa. Gorillas are divided into two species and either four or five subspecies. The DNA of gorillas is 98%99% identical to that of a human, and they are the next closest living relatives to humans after the two chimpanzee species. Gorillas live in tropical or subtropical forests. Although their range covers a small percentage of Africa, gorillas cover a wide range of elevations.

Silverbacks are the strong, dominant troop leaders. Each typically leads a troop (group size ranges from 5 to 30) and is in the center of the troop's attention, making all the decisions, mediating conflicts, determining the movements of the group, leading the others to feeding sites and taking responsibility for the safety and well-being of the troop. Blackbacks may serve as backup protection.

Sustaining Gorillas

By the end of the 1980's the world population of mountain gorillas was on the verge of extinction. In 2004 a census report (the first since 1989) revealed that in the virunga-mountain region the gorilla population had increased by 17%.

Though this has to count as one of the great conservation success stories like almost all the other great apes, gorillas are still endangered. Some subspecies are in fact listed as critically endangered, and unless a concerted worldwide effort is made, this magnificent species will unfortunately go the way of the Dodo.

The reason why this has to be a worldwide effort may not be immediately obvious, so let's first identify the current and most pervasive threats to the gorilla.

-- Although wild animal meat has long been part of the staple diet of indigenous forest dwellers, the rate at which these animals are being slaughtered has reached alarming new levels. This increase is most likely a direct consequence of deforestation. As things stand today the bushmeat trade is the single greatest threat to the survival of the gorilla.

-- As mankind's seemingly insatiable appetite for land (slotted for commercial use) continues unabated, in its wake lie the ruins of large tracts of forest and other habitats once home to many an endangered species. As mentioned earlier, the upward spiral in the bushmeat trade is a direct result of deforestation which in some measure is responsible for:

* increased access to previously inaccessible forest areas

* employees involved with deforestation killing the local wildlife to cater for their needs

* opportunistic commercial hunters profit by killing previously inaccessible wildlife and sell the meat to the logging/timber company employees * those same hunters can more easily export bushmeat to urban areas (which effectively translates into a bigger market) because of the new roads and other infrastructures associated with deforestation activity

* an upsurge in hostile encounters between people and gorillas (crop raiding/damage to farm crops)

COLLATERAL DAMAGE -- The bushmeat trade is not restricted to apes alone. As far as the hunter is concerned any animal caught in his snare is fair game. Frequently gorillas run into snares intended for other animals, and even if they escape, may end up losing the ensnared limb and ultimately dying.

ANIMALS ILLEGALLY IN CAPTIVITY--Up until the 1980's gorilla infants were often illegally captured and sold to recepient zoos. Usually the capture of the infant meant the deaths of several adult gorillas, because there was no way a troop of gorillas was going to allow the forced removal of one of its own without a fight.

Happily though this situation rarely, if ever, happens today. Most gorillas currently residing in zoos were born there. In fact the majority of young animals captured illegally could be considered as collateral damage to the bushmeat trade...survivors to the slaughter of their parents.


To summarize, the most immediate threats to the survivial of the gorilla and other great apes are:

* The Bushmeat Trade

* Deforestation and habitat loss

Saving the gorillas can only be successfully achieved through the combination of grassroot and international efforts. International commerce is the driving force behind deforestation, which directly impacts the gorillas by destroying their habitat and by facilitating the bushmeat trade.

Furthermore, the loss of forest land also affects the indigenous people, and may drive persons who were otherwise not so inclined, into hunting and the bushmeat trade to make ends meet.

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