January 17, 2019

A Census of Gorillas and Chimpanzees Finds More Than Expected

A Census of Gorillas and Chimpanzees Finds More Than Expected


A gorilla mother with her twins in Dzanga-Sangha, Central African Republic, part of a project to habituate gorillas to the presence of humans. A recent study counted more than 360,000 gorillas, far greater than the lowest previous estimate, 150,000.

Terence Fuh Neba, WWF

There are many more gorillas and chimpanzees than previously believed, new research finds. Nonetheless, their numbers are rapidly declining.

All great apes are protected species under national and international conventions; it is illegal to kill or capture them, or to buy and sell their body parts. But they are threatened by illegal poaching and the destruction of their habitats. And various diseases, particularly Ebola, have been devastating for the animals.

Gorillas and chimpanzees are found in western and central Africa. About 12 percent of their habitat is legally protected from development.

In an 11-year project, the Wildlife Conservation Society, in collaboration with other organizations, surveyed nests at 59 sites in five countries. The results appear in the journal Science Advances.


Forty-three percent of chimpanzees live in Congo. Both chimpanzee and gorilla numbers are declining, but only the rate for gorillas is known: 2.7 percent per year.

Emma Stokes/WCS

As of 2013, the researchers concluded, there were 361,919 weaned gorillas and 128,760 weaned chimpanzees in the region. Previous estimates had ranged as low as 150,000 gorillas and 70,000 chimpanzees.

Sixty percent of gorillas and 43 percent of chimpanzees live in Congo; Gabon is home to 27 percent of gorillas and 34 percent of chimpanzees. Most of these animals live outside protected areas.

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