Mountain gorillas, which happen to be our genetic cousins, have been significant part of conservation efforts during the past several decades. However, what’s really sad is that in spite of all the hard work put in by conservation scientists, right now our planet is home to less than 900 mountain gorillas.
According to experts, the mountain gorillas are on the verge of becoming extinct primarily due to habitat destruction and poaching. Genetic sequencing of these animals has revealed how severely these threats have affected their genome.
The said study has proved that the constant threats have resulted in significant loss of genetic diversity in these animals. However, during the genetic sequencing, scientists have also come across facts that leave us with some reasons to be optimistic about the future of mountain gorillas. The entire study has been published in the popular journal Science.
Gorillas are usually categorized into two species. The first one is the West African breed or Gorillas gorilla and the second one is Eastern Gorillas or Gorilla beringer, a species which is native to the central territories of the continent. Mountain Gorillas are basically subspecies of the Eastern Gorillas.
Mountain Gorillas are named so due to their choice of habitat; they reside in high altitudes. Such a choice of habitat has had significant impact on the physiology and diet of these animals. For example, these apes possess longer and thicker fur compared to any other Eastern Gorilla species; this physiological feature allows them to withstand the misty and wet environment of the mountains and live comfortably even when it’s extremely cold.
In 1981, the population of mountain gorillas in the Virunga volcanic mountain range dropped to just 253; this immense drop triggered the beginning of conservation efforts. The efforts showed notable results as the soon the number of mountain gorillas inhabiting the region became 480. However, the conservation efforts couldn’t restore everything.
A recently conducted analysis of the genome data has revealed that the decrease in the number of mountain gorillas in the past century has lead to a significant loss of genetic diversity in them; the study also talks about unexpected level of inbreeding.
The said study suggests that at this point, if genetic sequences of two mountain gorillas get compared, more than one third of the sequences will be exactly the same. The only good news is that the majority of the most harmful mutations are much less common in mountain gorillas compared to other subspecies of the animal.