May 4
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Endangered Species of the Week: Eastern gorilla

Photo of female mountain gorilla

Eastern gorilla (Gorilla beringei)

Species: Eastern gorilla (Gorilla beringei)

Status: Endangered (EN)

Interesting Fact: The eastern gorilla is divided into two subspecies, the eastern lowland or Grauer’s gorilla, and the mountain gorilla.

Together with the western gorilla (Gorilla gorilla), the eastern gorilla is the largest of the living apes. Gorillas have characteristically robust, heavy bodies and dark, shaggy coats, and males are much larger than females. The eastern gorilla lives in stable family groups, led by a dominant ‘silverback’ male, and females in the group give birth around once every three to four years. The eastern lowland gorilla is found in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the mountain gorilla in two isolated populations in Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The eastern gorilla faces a range of threats, including snares set for other wildlife, as well as deliberate poaching for bushmeat or to take infants as pets. This species is also surrounded by rapidly increasing human populations, and habitat destruction, illegal cattle grazing and timber extraction are also serious problems, as is political unrest in some areas. Fortunately, the eastern gorilla occurs largely in protected areas and a number of conservation programmes are underway to protect it. Mountain gorillas have been studied for decades, and in some places are protected by armed guards. Visits by tourists pose a risk of disease transmission to the gorillas, but these charismatic primates are recognised as an important source of tourist revenue, which may help to protect them.

Find out more about gorilla conservation at the International Gorilla Conservation Programme and the Great Apes Survival Partnership (GRASP).

See images and videos of the eastern gorilla on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

Nov 14
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In the News: Mountain gorilla population on the rise

The world population of mountain gorillas has risen significantly in recent years, according to a new census released by the Uganda Wildlife Authority.

Photo of mountain gorilla infant

The census, carried out in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, found over 400 gorillas living in 36 distinct social groups. This brings the total world population of mountain gorillas to 880, an increase of over 10% since 2010.

According to David Greer, WWF’s African Great Apes Programme Manager, “Mountain gorillas are the only great ape experiencing a population increase. This is largely due to intensive conservation efforts and successful community engagement.”

Photo of silverback mountain gorilla resting with group

Mountain gorilla conservation is now balanced against the needs of local people, for example by tackling illegal firewood collection in gorilla habitat by providing communities with alternative energy sources.

Mountain gorillas have only survived because of conservation. Protected areas are better managed and resourced than they have ever been, and our work is a lot more cross-cutting to address threats – we don’t just work with the animals in the national parks, but also with the people,” said Drew McVey, Species Programme Manager at WWF.

Mountain gorilla silverback, portrait

Threatened subspecies

The mountain gorilla, Gorilla beringei beringei, is a Critically Endangered subspecies of the eastern gorilla, the largest of the living apes. In addition to the population at Bwindi, a second mountain gorilla population is found in the Virunga Massif, a range of extinct volcanoes that spans the borders of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda and Rwanda.

The Virunga population has also increased in the last decade, but the two populations do not interbreed and both remain under threat from deforestation, disease, regional conflict, poaching, and snares set for other animals. There is also concern that proposed oil exploration in the Virunga National Park could bring new problems for gorillas and other wildlife in an area already beset by conflict.

Photo of guard showing all the animal traps collected within two months in Virunga National Park, habitat of the mountain gorilla

Guard showing animal traps collected within two months in the Virunga National Park

More people in Virunga would likely lead to an increase in deforestation, illegal hunting and more snares in the forest,” said Greer. “At least seven Virunga mountain gorillas have been caught in snares this year and two did not survive. The gorilla population remains fragile and could easily slip into decline if conservation management was to be disregarded in the pursuit of oil money by elites.”

Tourist draw

Although the increase in gorilla numbers in recent decades is encouraging, experts say that it should not be taken as a sign that the fight to save the species has been won.

Gorilla populations are incredibly fragile and sensitive to environmental change. There are only two populations, so disease could easily wipe out an entire population,” said McVey. He added that, “Mountain gorillas are only found in protected areas, and outside these areas there are more than 600 people per square kilometre, so there is immense pressure to secure their habitat and pay their way.”

Photo of juvenile mountain gorilla

Many mountain gorilla groups have become accustomed to humans and are a major draw for tourists. Revenue from tourism is in turn helping to fund the protection of parks and is being reinvested into local communities.

The amount of revenue and jobs that gorillas generate is so important for these areas that are so desperately poor,” McVey said. “People really see gorillas as important for the national and local economies, and a portion of this goes back to conservation efforts and the local community.”

Read more on this story at WWF – Mountain gorilla population grows and The Guardian – Mountain gorilla numbers rise by 10%.

Find out more about gorilla conservation at the International Gorilla Conservation Programme.

View photos and videos of mountain gorillas on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

Oct 5
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ARKive Celebrates World Smile Day

Happy World Smile Day! Did you know that today is dedicated to smiles and kind acts throughout the world? Smiling is a universal sign of affection instinctive to us all. But have you ever wondered where our grins come from?

Cheeky monkey

Smiling may have originated from the bared teeth expression made by monkeys when frightened. But in higher primates, teeth bearing is often a sign of submission and non-hostility from a subordinate member of a group towards a dominant member.

Picture of Grey-footed chacma baboon showing submissive behaviour

Grey-footed chacma baboon showing submissive behaviour

From signalling non-hostility and appeasement, teeth bearing is thought to have developed into showing affection and affiliation between equals.

Adult chimpanzee baring teeth

Adult chimpanzee baring teeth

Laughter is the best medicine

It’s also likely that our laughter evolved from another primate expression: the ‘play face’. This facial expression can be seen during playful encounters. For instance, a flash of teeth reassures a gorilla’s playmate that they do not intend to harm them. This appears to be a foundation of human laughter

Young chimpanzee showing prototypical 'play face'

Young chimpanzee showing prototypical 'play face'

It’s easy to imagine that all animals smile and show happiness just like us. Today, they can! For when you’re smiling, the whole (natural) world smiles with you…

Painted turtle (Chrysemys picta)

Belize crocodile (Crocodylus moreletii)

Snake-eyed lizard (Ophisops elegans)  

Photo of bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy World Smile Day!

Feb 16
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ARKive’s Love Species – The Top Ten!

Valentine’s Day has been and gone but we’d like to spread a little more love, so as a thank you for sharing your favourite species with us on Twitter, we are featuring your Top Ten cool and cute critters right here in our blog!

1. Kakapo

Kakapo image

The nocturnal kakapo is the world's biggest parrot species

This feathered fellow was chosen because it is the world’s only flightless parrot, and the male attracts a female with a bellowing ‘boom’! The kakapo, a giant parrot with an owl-like face, is endemic to New Zealand, and sadly there are only thought to be around 127 individuals remaining.

2. Manatee

Manatee image

The Florida manatee is a subspecies of the West Indian manatee

The gorgeous and tranquil manatee was chosen for being such a gentle giant! This large sirenian can consume between 10 and 15% of its body weight per day…that’s an awful lot of seagrass!

3. Blue whale

Blue whale image

The blue whale is so big that its heart is roughly the size of a Volkswagen Beetle!

Whales are pretty incredible species, and some of you chose the blue whale as an ultimate favourite due to its sheer size; the blue whale is the largest animal ever to have lived, being almost as large as a Boeing 737! Yet despite its size, this giant of the oceans feeds mainly on small shrimp-like krill.

4. Tiger

Tiger image

Young tigers are dependent on their mothers for at least 15 months

The majestic tiger was one of the favourites amongst the furred, and with its beautiful markings and powerful build, we can see why! The pattern and distribution of the stunning stripes on a tiger are unique to each animal, making identification of individuals possible. Sadly, poaching remains a threat to this incredible big cat.

5. Orangutan

Orangutan image

Orangutans are the slowest breeding of all mammal species

Orangutan means ‘person of the forest’ in the native languages of Indonesia and Malaysia, a description which certainly fits this enigmatic, human-like species. The long arms of the orangutan may reach up to two metres in length, perfect for giving their conspecifics a great big Valentine’s Day hug! Unfortunately, habitat destruction is a major threat to both species of orangutan.

6. Orca

Orca image

The shapes of an orca's dorsal fin and saddle patch are unique to each individual

The largest member of the dolphin family, the social orca, was chosen as a favourite for being graceful yet powerful. With its striking black and white markings, the intelligent orca, also known as the killer whale, is certainly an impressive animal, and the dorsal fin of a male can reach up to 1.8 metres in height.

7. Penguin

Emperor penguin image

Weighing up to 40 kilograms, the Emperor penguin is the heavyweight of the penguin world

Penguins were another of the most popular species choices, and they certainly are loveable creatures! The emperor penguin in particular shows great dedication to its family; the male will incubate an egg in sub-zero temperatures for several months without feeding. Now that’s true love!

8. Flamingo

Greater flamingo image

The greater flamingo is the most widespread of the flamingo species

The beautiful greater flamingo is instantly recognisable with its beautiful pink colouration, and long neck and legs. The highly social greater flamingo is the largest and palest of the flamingo species, and is known to swim to find food. This iconic bird nests in massive colonies containing more than 20,000 pairs, so no quiet dinner date for two where this species is concerned!

9. Gorilla

Eastern gorilla image

Young gorillas are not fully weaned until they are 3.5 years of age

The largest of the living apes, the gorilla was another of your favourite furries. This fascinating species lives in stable, cohesive family groups within tropical forests. With their cute, human-like faces and playful antics, it is hard not to feel engaged with these intelligent creatures.

10. Pangolin

Chinese pangolin image

The Chinese pangolin is terrestrial, but is capable of climbing trees and swimming

And finally, the strangest-looking creature from our top ten: the pangolin! Despite not being closely related to anteaters, the curious pangolin is sometimes known as the scaly anteater as it is highly specialised in feeding solely on ants and termites. I wouldn’t consider this to be a particularly delicious Valentine’s Day meal, but am sure the pangolin would beg to differ!

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Species Text Author

Feb 5
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From the West End to Wildlife – Part Two

We hope you enjoyed our last From the West End to Wildlife blog featuring Gina Beck and Tori Johns’ favourite species! Today, we’re back with another instalment, quizzing the best of the West End to find out what their favourite species are, and hear about some fascinating wildlife experiences!

Oliver Tompsett

Oliver is currently playing bad-boy wannabe Drew in Rock of Ages, and has chosen a fellow primate as his favourite species, “I love the gorilla; such a powerful creature, yet always so gentle to its family.

Mountain gorilla silverback

Gorilla families are led by an adult male known as a silverback

Oliver is quite right; despite their King Kong reputation, gorillas are actually not particularly aggressive animals, and live in strongly bonded family groups led by a male known as a silverback. There are two species of this impressive primate, the eastern gorilla and the western gorilla, classified as Endangered and Critically Endangered, respectively, on the IUCN Red List. The main threats to these majestic creatures are the loss and fragmentation of habitat, and poaching.

Infant mountain gorilla image

Young gorillas are not fully weaned until they are 3.5 years old

Did you know?

  • Gorillas are the largest of the living apes; adult male gorillas can stand at a height of 1.7 metres.
  • At about 14 years of age, the hair on the saddle of a male’s back turns whitish, hence the name ‘silverback’.
  • Despite their massive size, gorillas are herbivorous, feeding mainly on leaves.
  • Gorillas build nests to sleep in at night, usually on the ground.

Oliver moves from land to sea for the location of his favourite wildlife experience to date, “Snorkelling in Egypt! It was truly like being super-imposed into Finding Nemo! The colours were incredible!

One of the stars of Finding Nemo was Crush the green turtle, and Oliver may well have seen one of Crush’s relatives, gliding gracefully over the reef, during his snorkelling adventures in Egypt.

Green turtle image

Green turtles are graceful gentle giants

There are hundreds more intriguing species to be found off the coast of Egypt, and as an avid rocker, I’m sure that Oliver’s character Drew would have loved to have seen the super-cool giant guitarfish!

Giant guitarfish image

The giant guitarfish is named for its strange guitar-like shape!

Our favourite rocker’s trip was ended rather abruptly thanks to the appearance of another rather large fish species…

The guide saw a dangerous shark and told us all to get back on the boat. Luckily I didn’t see it or I would have cried. I am obsessed with and petrified of sharks!

Oliver may well be terrified of sharks, but we have found one West End wonder who loves them…

 

Sarah Earnshaw

When asked about her favourite species, Sarah replied without hesitation, “For me it has to be the great white shark. I’m absolutely fascinated by them. They have such power, yet are incredibly graceful. I mean, don’t get me wrong, if I came face to face with one I’d be terrified but there’s something so intriguing about their mystery and danger!

Great white shark image

Great white sharks are highly skilled marine predators

The great white shark is often thought of as a fearsome man-eater, but this is not the case; it feeds predominantly on fish, but will also eat turtles, molluscs and small marine mammals.  Like other sharks and rays, the great white shark has a skeleton made of cartilage, rather than bone. This mighty species uses its keen senses of smell, sound location and electroreception to detect weak and injured prey from great distances.

Sarah sticks to the marine realm for her favourite wildlife experience, “I had the most fantastic experience when I was in New Zealand. I went whale and dolphin watching. We saw three beautiful humpback whales, and dolphins literally for as far as the eye could see! There was something so special about seeing the whales diving and their tails rising above the surface. It was an experience I’ll never forget.

Humpback whale image

Humpback whale calves are born in warm waters

Did you know?

  • The humpback whale gets its name from the way it arches its back when it dives deeply or ‘sounds’.
  • The pattern on the underside of the flukes is unique to each whale, and can be used to photo-identify individuals.
  • Humpback whales are known to herd their prey into a cluster by blowing a net of bubbles around shoals of potential food, making it easier to catch a big mouthful at once.
  • Male humpback whales sing a complex song to attract mates.

Sarah is a firm believer in wildlife conservation, “Conservation is extremely important. Without it, not only would we lose some of the most interesting, beautiful and diverse creatures in the world, we also risk a real disruption to the balance of nature as we know it.

Join us again soon for our next blog, when Kerry Ellis and Aoife Mulholland share their wildlife favourites with us!

Get involved

Why not have a browse around the ARKive website to seek out your favourite species? You might be surprised at what you find! Then help spread the wildlife love by tweeting about your chosen awesome animal or peculiar plant using the #LoveSpecies hashtag!

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