GORILLA STATUS AND DISTRIBUTION
Gorillas are found naturally in ten African countries and are protected by law in all of them. Both species are also listed on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which bans all interna- tional trade (live or dead, including products and derivatives) for primarily commercial purposes. Unfortunately, this legal protection does not yet ensure that gorillas are safe throughout their range. Three of the four sub-species are listed as ‘Critically Endangered’ on the IUCN Red List, and the fourth – the Eastern Lowland Gorilla – as ‘Endangered’, though many field-workers consider that it too should be in the Critically Endangered category but owing to insecurity in its habitat, lack the data to prove it.
First described by science in 1847, the gorilla has captured the public imagination throughout the developed world ever since. For people living in or around its habitat, the fascina- tion goes back much further and gorillas loom large in the folklore and mythology of Central African cultures. For the most part, though, human-gorilla relations have been char- acterized by mutual animosity, fear and misunderstanding. Only since field studies revealed the largely gentle nature of gorilla family life has this begun to change. Where gorilla tourism has developed, gorillas are now considered an eco- nomic asset of national importance, but elsewhere old atti- tudes prevail. The question is – will this new appreciation of gorillas spread to all those who threaten the apes or their habi- tat in time to save them?
TAXONOMY For most of the 20th century, scientists considered there to be one species of gorilla with two or three sub-species. By the turn of the 21st century, genetic studies lent weight to the morpho- logical evidence that the original 1903 description of the Moun- tain Gorilla as a separate species was correct.
Most scientists now accept that there are two species of gorilla, the Eastern (Gorilla beringei) and the Western gorilla (Gorilla gorilla). These distinct species are thought to have separated on their different evolutionary pathways at least two million years ago; moreover, each species has two distinct sub-species (Groves, 2002) and further variation between populations that is still subject to taxonomic debate.