Gorilla in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park byChristian Passeri

Gorillas are ground-dwelling, predominantly herbivorous apes that inhabit the forest of central Sub-Saharan Africa. The genus Gorilla is divided into two species: the eastern gorillas and the western gorillas (both critically endangered), and either four or five subspecies.

They are the largest living primates. The DNA of gorillas is highly similar to that of humans, from 95 to 99% depending on what is included, and they are the next closest living relatives to humans after the chimpanzees and bonobos.

About 9 Million years ago, gorillas split off from the ancestors of humans and chimpanzees, the genus Gorilla was born. About 3 million years later, the lineages that led to modern chimps and humans diverged

The first reference was by savage and Wyman in 1847, where they described gorilla as Troglodytes gorilla. However, the name was changed to the genus gorilla by Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire in 1852. The genus Gorilla has been an accepted taxonomic classification since that time. The species classification, however, continues o be the subject of ongoing debate. In the first half of the twentieth many names and classifications were proposed. The most widely accepted classification was the result of a study done in 1929 by Harold Coolidge. Coolidge studied over two hundred skulls representing all known forms of genus gorilla and also examined a number of other morphological characteristics. Coolidge concluded that the eastern and western forms of gorilla were in fact different. thus he asserted that two gorilla subspecies be recognised

Distribution of Gorillas

Gorillas have a patchy distribution. The range of the two species is separated by the Congo River and its tributaries. The western gorilla lives in west-central Africa, while the eastern gorilla lives in east-central Africa. Between the species, and even within the species, gorillas live in a variety of habitats and elevations. Gorilla habitat ranges from montane forest to swampland. Eastern gorillas inhabit montane and submontane forest between 650 and 4,000 m (2,130 and 13,120 ft) above sea level. Mountain gorillas live in montane forests at the higher end of the elevation range, while eastern lowland gorillas live in a submontane forest at the lower end. In addition, eastern lowland gorillas live in montane bamboo forests, as well as lowland forests ranging from 600–3,308 m (1,969–10,853 ft) in elevation. Western gorillas live in both lowland swamp forest and montane forest, at elevations ranging from sea level to 1,600 m (5,200 ft). Western lowland gorillas live in swamp and lowland forests ranging up to 1,600 m (5,200 ft), and Cross River gorillas live in low-lying and submontane forests ranging from 150–1,600 m (490–5,250 ft).

Conservation Status of Gorillas

All species (and subspecies) of gorilla are listed as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List. Now, over 100,000 western lowland gorillas are thought to exist in the wild, with 4,000 in zoos, thanks to conservation; eastern lowland gorillas have a population of under 5,000 in the wild and 24 in zoos. Mountain gorillas are the most severely endangered, with an estimated population of about 880 left in the wild and none in zoos. Threats to gorilla survival include habitat destruction and poaching for the bushmeat trade. In 2004, a population of several hundred gorillas in the Odzala National Park, Republic of Congo was essentially wiped out by the Ebola virus.  A 2006 study published in Science concluded more than 5,000 gorillas may have died in recent outbreaks of the Ebola virus in central Africa. The researchers indicated in conjunction with commercial hunting of these apes, the virus creates "a recipe for rapid ecological extinction". Conservation efforts include the Great Apes Survival Project, a partnership between the United Nations Environment Programme and the UNESCO, and also an international treaty, the Agreement on the Conservation of Gorillas and Their Habitats, concluded under UNEP-administered Convention on Migratory Species. The Gorilla Agreement is the first legally binding instrument exclusively targeting gorilla conservation; it came into effect on 1 June 2008.