Facts about the Eastern Lowland gorillas

Facts about the Eastern Lowland gorillas : Gorillas are the largest apes that live in forests, swamps and lowland areas of East, Central and western parts of Africa. Gorillas are categorized in two species including the Eastern gorillas and the western gorillas. The Western gorillas are divided into the Western lowland gorillas and Cross River gorillas while the Eastern gorillas are divided into the Mountain gorillas and the Eastern lowland gorillas. The eastern gorillas are divided into two sub-species namely; the mountain gorilla and Eastern lowland gorillas found only in Virunga mountains and Kahuzi Biega National Park respectfully. Western lowland gorillas are more common seen in zoos and fairly distributed in regions of Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Congo Brazzaville, Angola, Central African Republic and Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The Mountain Gorillas can only be found in Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Odzala National Park in Congo Brazzaville hosts the largest known population and density of western lowland gorillas. Because most of them live in extremely remote habitats, researchers find it hard to estimate their exact population. It was first thought that about 100,000 western lowland gorillas were still living in the wild based on estimations done in the 1980’s. However, a recent discovery of an estimated 125,000 individuals in a remote swampy are in the north of Congo Brazzaville has excited both researches and conservationist alike.

Common features of Gorilla species

  • Like mountain gorillas, Eastern lowland gorillas are peaceful and quiet apes. They can bark, roar or scream when the need arises.
  • Gorillas never attack or become aggressive without provocation. The males may fight over females once in a while but only occasionally.
  • Gorillas communicate using a variety of sounds or body language.
  • They spend their day grooming, climbing, swinging on tree tops and playfully chasing each other. Their diet consists of leaves, stems, fruit and shrubs.
  • Mountain gorilla groups generally contain more individuals than Eastern lowland groups between 20 to 30 individuals or more.
Facts about the Eastern Lowland gorillas
Facts about the Eastern Lowland gorillas
  • Both subspecies live in groups that are led by a dominant silverback. The other males in the group can choose to live as bachelor in the group before hopefully taking over from the dominant silverback or leave to find mates. Females usually move on to join a lone male or another group of their preference once they reach age. Females are known for changing groups throughout their life. Because of their considerable size and weight, gorillas live mostly on the ground. Both species build nests on the ground to rest in the middle and end of each day using leaves, shrubs and tree branches. Juveniles and females may build their nests on top of trees.

Eastern Lowland gorillas

Eastern Lowland gorillas are considered critically endangered and are included in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) List of species that need special protection. This is because they live in regions that are often volatile, killed for meat or caught in fights between rebel groups. Their habitats are being destroyed by humans interested in mining, logging, expanding grazing lands, establishing farmlands and new settlements. Diseases such as Ebola have been found to wipe out entire families. However, all is not lost for the Eastern lowland gorillas. Conservationists and researchers have worked tirelessly to ensure their survival. World Wildlife Fund (WWF) is one organization that has taken lead in attracting funds and raising awareness about the need for closer monitoring and conservation of lowland gorillas. As noted, the eastern lowland gorillas differ from mountain gorillas in many ways as some people misunderstand them. Some of the differences between the 2 species include;

  • The eastern lowland gorillas have browner coats and the silver on the back of the male may extend to the lower body including the thighs.
  • Although relatively small in size, the Eastern lowland gorilla has a larger and wider skull compared to the mountain gorilla.
  • Eastern Lowland gorillas are more mobile than the mountain gorillas because their habitats spread over large areas.
  • For both subspecies (eastern lowland gorillas and mountain gorillas), both the males are usually far larger than the females.
  • Eastern Lowland Gorillas have remarkable intelligence and have been spotted using a variety of tools in the wild.
  • Researchers have witnessed some of the lowland gorillas testing the depth of swamps and rivers before deciding whether to cross to the other end. In captivity,
  • Eastern lowland gorillas have shown remarkable ability to learn sign language. They may develop other habits and behaviour that aren’t seen with those in the wild.

Eastern Lowland gorilla trekking in Kahuzi Biega National Park

Despite the relatively high population of lowland gorillas remaining in the wild, it’s much easier to track the mountain gorillas. The range covered by lowland gorillas is wide requiring greater effort habituating them. The Central African Republic and Congo Brazzaville have the highest number of lowland gorillas and provide the greatest opportunities to see. However, many of the strongholds of lowland gorillas in these two countries are found in very remote areas that are often volatile and with poor tourism infrastructure.

Kahuzi-Biega National Park is the only place where one can track Eastern lowland gorillas and it has about 400 Eastern lowland gorillas living in Kahuzi Biega National Park in about 9 families. 3 of the 9 groups have been habituated and are open for tracking. The park is located in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo near Bukavu and south of Lake Kivu. The terrain found in Kahuzi-Biega National Park provides perfect habitat for these great apes.

Lowland gorilla trekking is basically for travellers interested in primates or wish to have a totally different experience from the usual game viewing safaris. Apart from finding the gorilla, the reward is spotting areas that have never been visited by many before and wondering at the remarkable biodiversity. Eastern lowland gorillas trekking in Kahuzi-Biega national park starts with briefing at the Tshivanga Visitor Centre which is found outside the park entrance. The park guide will peruse through the rule and regulations regarding lowland gorilla trekking while sharing with visitors’ facts the gorilla families and the terrain they live in.

Facts about the Eastern Lowland gorillas
Facts about the Eastern Lowland gorillas

After the briefing, visitors are then led through established trails in search of the gorilla group. Eastern Lowland gorillas are always on the move and finding them may take an hour or two. Visitors will probably first spot the youngsters playing about before the dominant silverback appears to check if there is any potential threat to the family. If all is okay, he will allow trekker to watch the family. You are only allowed one hour with the gorilla group and this will be a perfect time to observe their behavior and take some great photos.

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