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Western Lowland Gorilla

The Zoo has 1 western lowland Gorilla called Makoko. He was born in Wilhemina Zoo in Germany in 1985 and was hand reared by his keepers. In 2004, when he was 19 years old he was brought to the Johannesburg Zoo.

Makoko shares his enclosure with peacocks and duikers. He poses no threat to them and they share the enclosure peacefully. The trees in Makokos enclosure are bordered with electric fencing, Gorillas are strong enough to break the trees down and given the opportunity he would break them. Although a female has been requested for Makoko via the studbooks, it is not unusual to find solitary male gorillas in the wild. An adolescent male most often splits from his parent group due to lack of breeding opportunity. Usually the adolescent male will remain solitary until he forms his own troop. This process takes several years and begins by the juvenile male separating himself just outside from the troop.
Western gorillas are the largest living apes. They inhabit primary, secondary and swamp forests.

The trade in bushmeat, when gorillas are killed for their meat, is posing more of a threat to the survival of the species and cleared forests are ever more accessible to hunters. The demand for meat has increased from both road labourers and a growing urban market. Western gorillas are very susceptible to the illegal bushmeat trade, as gorilla meat is viewed as a symbol of wealth and prestige.

Females care for their young infant for the first four to five years of its life. Therefore there is a long interval between births, which partly explains the slow population growth rates that make the western gorilla so vulnerable to poaching. Due to the long gestation time, long period of parental care, and infant mortality, a female gorilla will only give birth to an offspring that survives to maturity every four to six years
Many gorillas were also lost due to the Ebola virus. From 1992 to 2007, it is thought that around one third of the total population found in protected areas was killed by this lethal virus. Male gorillas will actively defend their females and offspring if their group encounters a threat, and this increases their chances of being killed by a hunter.

These factors along with forest degradation, slash and burn agriculture, the high demand of coltan and palm oil has placed the Western lowland gorilla as critically endangered on the IUCN red list, this means they face a high risk of extinction in the near future.

The western gorilla is listed on Appendix 1 of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) there has been a decline in international trade of these species. The United Nations Enviromental Programme (UNEP) has recognized the urgent need to protect one of our closest relatives and has established a Great Ape Survival Project (GRASP) this project is aimed at identifying conservation initiatives required to secure the future of these apes and at obtaining political support and funding to allow these to be achieved.

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