Deep in the rainforests of Africa far away from civilization, the gorillas lived for thousands of years unknown to the outside world. It was not until the later part of the 1800’s when strange tales about these creatures reached the western world, that men came with guns. In a span of just over one hundred years, the gorilla has become one of the world’s most endangered species. In an effort to raise funds and awareness to the problems facing endangered species, the United Nations (UN) named 2009 the “Year of the Gorilla.”
Today, the number of gorillas left in the wild has been getting smaller at a faster rate. The cross river and the mountain gorilla are most in danger. Human activity is the main cause for the problem. The forests where the gorillas live are shrinking. Many of the people living in these areas are poor and after years of war, famine and disease have had little choice but to use the forests to survive. The forests are disappearing as foreign companies develop the land for logging, mining and farming. Hunting, poaching and the gorilla trade for live babies are increasing.
Gorillas naturally roam over large parts of the forests but as these areas get smaller, humans are living closer. Gorillas have been shot for eating crops. Tourists who bring money to the area increase the gorilla’s exposure to human diseases when they visit them in their natural habitat. Too much human contact can endanger gorillas by changing their defenses and gorillas die from human diseases.
Female gorillas do not have babies very often and many do not survive. As gorilla areas separate, mature females have a harder time finding new groups to start families. Because gorillas defend their members when attacked, entire groups of gorillas are killed by those trying to capture one infant.
Gorillas play an important part in the ecosystem. They move from place to place to avoid stripping an area of its plant life. Gorilla droppings contain undigested seeds that grow into new plants. Gorilla pathways are used by other animals. Broken branches, fruit and peel droppings left behind by gorillas are eaten by smaller animals. Gorillas do not hunt other animals and are rarely attacked by other wildlife.
As the forests shrink, natural resources are being replaced by air, land and water pollution. Climate changes have brought drought to some areas and flooding to others. Medicines made from forest plants are disappearing. Humans are endangering themselves by destroying the diverse ecosystem that they need. People all over the world have already been experiencing some of its effects.
But is the gorilla worth the cost of saving them? Many of the Africans living near the gorillas are struggling and their countries have a right to use the forests as they wish. Without the forests will the lives of the people improve? The future of the gorilla is now in the hands of the people who created the problem. If the gorilla is to have a chance of surviving, it is up to these people to work together in finding solutions to the problem.
If you wish to learn more about gorillas or other endangered species visit your local library. There are many websites on the subject and TV programs and movies you can watch. Join a conservation group or visit a zoo to find out more. Share what you learn and try to be a wise consumer. Support companies that sponsor conservation, preserve and sustain the forests. Recycle, reuse and reduce environmental waste.
**The text here and pictures was reworked into the published Oct.29, 2014, “Saving the Gorilla” book with Lulu Publishing and is available for purchase at Lulu.com.