Free-living gorillas live only in Africa. There are 4 subspecies of gorillas: Western Lowland Gorillas, Eastern Lowland Gorillas, Cross-River Gorillas and Mountain Gorillas. All are critically endangered. While the Mountain Gorillas are perhaps the most well known in the media, because of their association with Dian Fossey, and their successful preservation at a level of about 1000, it’s the much more numerous Western Lowland Gorillas (100,000+) who are the most threatened by human hunting (for “bushmeat”) and habitat destruction. And it is only the Western Lowland Gorillas who live in zoos (over 600 worldwide).
Eastern Lowland Gorillas
Eastern Lowland gorillas live in Rwanda, Uganda, and Democratic Republic of Congo. There are two subspecies, Mountain gorillas and Grauer’s (or Eastern lowland) gorillas. There are approximately 700 Mountain gorillas, and several thousand Eastern lowland gorillas — down from about 17,000 in the 1990’s according to the World Wildlife Fund.
Western Lowland Gorillas
Western Lowland gorillas live in Cameroon, Gabon, Congo, Central African Republic, Angola, and Nigeria. There are two subspecies, Western lowland gorillas and Cross River gorillas. There are only several hundred Cross River gorillas left in the world, and as many as 100,000 Western lowland gorillas, but the latter population has decreased by approximately 60% in the past 20-25 years, due to poaching, habitat loss, and disease, according to the WWF.
Cross-River gorillas live on the border between Cameroon and Nigeria. Their population has shrunk to between 200-300. Thus, they are the most critically endangered subspecies from a sustainability perspective.
Mountain gorillas live in the volcanic mountains (the Virungas) of Rwanda and Uganda. They are managed and monitored closely by the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund. Their numbers are currently around 1000, up from just 10 years ago when their popluation size was closer to 700.
Captive Gorillas (Zoos & Sanctuaries)
Most captive gorillas live in zoos in the USA and Europe, or in sanctuaries in Africa. There are currently no gorilla sanctuaries outside of Africa. All zoo gorillas are Western lowland gorillas. Koko and Ndume, who lived at the Gorilla Foundation in Northern California, are also Western lowland gorillas.
The Gorilla Foundation has 71 acres of beautiful tropical land on the island of Maui, leased (and paid for) through 2058, with an option to purchase the land, and possibly more of the adjacent land. This was originally intended to be a future sanctuary for gorillas Koko and Ndume. While Koko passed away (in 2018) and Ndume has been transferred to the Cincinnati Zoo (2019), there is still a pressing need for such a sanctuary — for those gorillas who are not currently adapting to zoo life. Thus we are exploring partnerships to finally realize the KokoMaui Sanctuary as an important part of Koko’s legacy.