Of all four Gorilla subspecies, the Western Lowland Gorilla is the smallest. With height and weight averaging at a respective 1.8 metres and 131.1 kilograms, adult males far outsize females (1.4 metres and 113.4 kilograms). Both boast coats of short, thin, black hair, with reddish hair on the crown. Infants sport a white tuft until the age of four, while mature silverback males display a saddle of white hair along the small of their backs.
All Gorilla subspecies are mainly herbivorous, with fruit, leaves, shrubs and herbs as the cornerstone of a diet which can see male adults eat 32 kilograms of food per day. The Western Lowland Gorilla in particular is thought to live in smaller groups (or troops) than other subspecies – a community of five individuals on average led by a dominant silverback male. The troop typically rests at vegetation-made nests on the ground or tree branches, communicating via sounds as well as visual signals.
Western lowland gorillas are found within a 700,000-square-kilometre region all across Africa’s Congo Basin, with troops scattered between Angola, Cameroon, Central African Republic, the Republic of the Congo and Equatorial Guinea; they are thought to be likely extinct in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The estimated 300 individuals living at Cameroon’s Deng-Deng National Park represent the northernmost population of the subspecies.
Threats and Conservation
The latest IUCN assessment classifies Western Lowland Gorillas as Critically Endangered, a status they have held since 2007. A mixture of habitat degradation with other factors has plunged the subspecies into extensive decline, with studies finding a 19.4% drop of global population between 2003 and 2013 alone and annual losses of 2.7% ongoing since that year. Across the Congo Basin the chief threat is illegal poaching for bushmeat. At Cameroon’s Deng-Deng National Park, the Western Lowland Gorillas that WLT partner ERuDeF is trying to protect also face habitat loss from illegal timber extraction and clearance for subsistence farming.