What you didn’t know about the grauer’s gorilla

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The grauer’s gorilla also known as Gorilla beringei grauer or the eastern lowland gorilla is a subspecies of the eastern gorilla found in the mountainous forests of eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Majority of the population of the grauer’s gorilla is found in the two protected areas of Kauzi-Biega and Maiko National Parks and in their adjacent forests of Tayna Gorilla Reserve and Usala forest and on the Itombwe Massif.

The grauer’s gorilla is the largest of the four gorilla species and like the popular mountain gorilla, the grauer’s gorilla has got jet black coat though shorter than that of the mountain gorilla.

Here are six amazing facts you didn’t know about mountain gorillas

Fact 1: Grauer’s gorillas are found only in Democratic Republic of Congo

Unlike their neighbors, the mountain gorillas that are found in 3 countries including DR Congo, Uganda and Rwanda, grauer’s gorillas can only be found in eastern DR Congo. Unfortunately, this area has for long been difficult to access due to due to insecurity caused by decades of civil unrest in the area. This has limited the study of the grauer’s gorilla hence much is still unknown about them.

Fact 2: grauer’s gorillas were previously known as the eastern lowland gorillas

The name was adjusted to better reflect the range of habitats they live in. it is true that majority of the grauer’s gorillas live in lowland forests at altitude as low as 600m above sea level, however their range extends up to 2900m above sea level. Such altitude overlaps with that of mountain gorillas hence rendering the name lowland gorilla inappropriate.

Fact 3: Grauer’s gorillas are at the highest risk of the four gorilla subspecies

Currently, the population of grauer’s gorillas stands at about 3,500 individuals but the bad news is that scientists estimate that their numbers have declined by almost 80 percent over the past twenty-five years. By comparison, although mountain gorillas are about 1,000 individuals, their numbers have been on a steady increase since the late 1980s. therefore the rapid decline in the population of the grauer’s gorillas coupled with their small number put this species at such a high risk. Their decline has been primarily attributed to poaching which has thrived in the region during the period of civil unrest as well as illegal mining of components used in manufacturing electronics like cell phones.

Fact 4: Majority of the grauer’s gorillas live in unprotected areas

Although Kauzi-Biega and Maiko National Parks in eastern DRC are regarded as protection centers of the grauer’s gorillas, majority of them live outside these homes. It is against this background that conservation organizations like the Fossey Fund which had previously focused on protecting mountain gorillas in Rwanda decided to expand their work to protect the grauer’s gorillas too. This project kicked off in 2001 and in 2012, the organization partnered with local communities and established the Nkuba Conservation Area to protect forests that harbored grauer’s gorillas. The area has expended from its original size of 700 sq. km to 1,300 sq. km with an estimated population of about 200 grauer’s gorillas. And just like in Rwanda, the organization’s main work focuses on protection, research and engaging local communities to improve their livelihoods through employing some members many of whom were former hunters.

Fact 5: Grauer’s gorillas are studied differently compared to mountain gorillas

The grauer’s gorillas in the established Nkuba Conservation Area are not habituated to humans hence the way of research and protecting them is completely different from that of the habituated mountain gorillas. The Fossey Fund trackers follow the grauer’s gorillas a day’s distance with the help of food remains, nest sites, footprints, among other methods to detect their presence, establish their numbers, travel paths, diets and other important information.

Fact 6: Grauer’s gorillas share social behavior with mountain gorillas

Although majority of the grauer’s gorillas remain unhabituated, just like mountain gorillas, they are highly sociable and very peaceful. They also live in groups or families ranging from two to thirty in number. A group of grauer gorillas consists of one silverback, the leader, several females and their offspring. The silverback primarily lead the group and protect the members from danger while other young males slowly begin to leave their natal groups in attempt to form their own groups.