Largest Gorilla Subspecies Shows Promising Population Increase After New Study

For critically endangered animals, population studies are a crucial tool that helps scientists understand how best to protect them. Unfortunately, these studies often trend in only one direction — downwards.

While interventions have proven notably successful in some cases, many endangered species are fighting a losing battle without adequate protection from exploitation, habitat loss, and other dangers.

A recent study of Grauer’s gorillas, however, is bucking that trend and showing a positive picture. Grauer’s, which are the largest eastern gorilla subspecies known to researchers, are found exclusively in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Instability in the region because of poaching and mining has made research difficult and dangerous. The last census in the mid-90s measured their population at around 3,800 but acknowledged that it was based on incomplete data.

Now, researchers working with the Wildlife Conservation Society have published “the most extensive survey of Grauer’s gorilla numbers to date” in a new report titled “Changes in Grauer’s gorilla (Gorilla beringei graueri) and other primate populations in the Kahuzi-Biega National Park and Oku Community Reserve, the heart of Grauer’s gorilla global range,” published in the American Journal of Primatology.


The paper’s authors argue that their “results confirm the negative impact of insecurity on Grauer’s gorilla but indicate that the population declines may not be as great as previously feared. Using our revised gorilla density estimate we revise the original estimate of global numbers from 3,800 to 6,800 individuals.”

This sharp rise from 3,800 to 6,800 makes researchers cautiously optimistic because it has been studied against a backdrop of continued danger and risk for the species. Their numbers are still on the decline. Still, researchers have hope.


A 2018 decision set aside more than 565 square miles of protected land that they say is critical for the gorilla’s continued protection. “Without good protection and forest management, Grauer’s gorillas would be on the brink of extinction,” explained co-author and WCS DRC Technical Director Deo Kujirakwinja in an interview with the WCS Newsroom. “We must secure these forests to safeguard Grauer’s gorillas and other primates.”

Read more about the fight for not only Grauer’s gorillas but other endangered African wildlife here!

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