The gorilla is the largest of the great apes, and as with the orang-utan it shares around 98% of its DNA with humans, making them a very close relative in terms of their genetic makeup.
The Mountain Gorilla is officially classified as “critically endangered” and faces a number of threats in its native Central African rainforest habitat. These animals, most commonly found in Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are kidnapped for the illegal pet trade as babies, hunted as “bush meat” and are also often killed accidentally by snares and traps set for other animals that share their habitat.
Gorillas are sometimes killed because they are incorrectly perceived as a violent and threatening creature. Gorillas are in fact peaceful, family-orientated animals for the most part and they typically only become violent when they or their offspring are directly threatened – the familiar chest-beating display being a show of strength and an indication of the enraged state of these creatures.
As they share such a large amount of their genetic code with humans they are also susceptible to human diseases such as measles and in particular the deadly Ebola virus, which is believed to have destroyed significant proportions of the gorilla population in recent years.
It is believed that since the 1980s the gorilla population in the Republic of Congo has halved. Recent finds of previously undiscovered numbers of these animals are encouraging, although the animal remains critically endangered as a gorilla sub-species. The total number of mountain gorillas in the wild is now believed to be just 780. The IGCP (International Gorilla Conservation Programme) co-founded by the WWF in 1991 has led to a slow, slight gradual population growth in the first ten years, but the work to protect them is never-ending and expensive.
Conservation efforts in the Republic of Congo have proved fruitful with the establishment of protected areas in National Parks, though as much of the gorilla population is outside these areas they remain at risk from the above factors in addition to the destruction of their rainforest habitat by logging companies and by individuals who harvest wood in an unsustainable manner as their primary source of fuel.