Gorilla - Overview
Geographic Distribution & Habitat:
There are two species of gorillas—the western gorilla, which live in Central Africa, and the eastern gorilla, which lives in Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. They inhabit a range of habitats, from forests high up in the mountains to lowland swamps.
Each has two subspecies:
As the largest of all the great apes, gorillas are quite impressive to look at! Males are typically around 5.5 ft (167 cm) tall and weigh around 400 lb (180 kg), while females are 4.5 ft (137 cm) and 200 lb (90 kg).
Gorillas can be identified by their dense, dark coats and large, crested foreheads. Adult males are known as “silverbacks,” since the hair on their backs turns silver-gray when they are about 12 years old, setting them apart from females and juveniles. As they walk on their knuckles, you can see how powerful and muscular their long arms are, compared with their shorter legs.
Gorillas eat leaves, which are abundant but energy-poor. For an animal the size of the gorilla, that means they need to eat approximately 50 lb (23 kg) of food a day to get all the energy that they need! That being said, they’ll also supplement their diet with fruit, insects, seeds, and bark for added nutrients and a boost of energy.
Behavior & Lifestyle:
Gorillas live in troops, where a single silverback rules over a group of females and their offspring. As the leader, a silverback has a lot of responsibilities; he has to take care of the other individuals in his troop, make sure they all find food, and fend off enemies. At night, he also has to find a suitable place for them to settle down and make night nests. Unlike chimpanzees and other primates, gorillas usually sleep on the ground. Infants will sleep with their mothers, who keep a close watch over them until they are around 6 years old. Gorillas may live to be 40 years old, so it is important for a gorilla to maintain strong social bonds with other members of the troop through grooming and other friendly interactions.
Threats & Conservation:
All four gorilla species are Critically Endangered. Besides the bushmeat trade, other threats include deforestation due to logging, violence and political instability in the countries that they inhabit, poaching, and diseases introduced by ecotourism.*
*Conservation status update September 2016
What’s in a Dad?
Even though silverbacks may appear tough on the outside, they actually make very tolerant—and even playful—dads. Even when he is trying to take a nap, a silverback might allow infants to climb over him. He’ll also protect infants from danger and call playtime to an end when things get too rough.
You won’t see gorillas venture up into the trees too often, because they are simply too heavy for most branches! However, infants and small juveniles are smaller and lighter, so they might climb as a way of exploring their environment, playing with one another, and, in some cases, grabbing a snack of leaves or fruit.
You may have seen gorillas beating their chests in cartoons or in movies. But, did you know that this is an important part of how gorillas communicate with one another? To be most precise, gorillas actually slap their chests with cupped hands, making a rather funny sound that travels far and act as a warning to other individuals (see video below). Gorillas make a whole host of other vocalizations and displays, including branch-throwing to indicate agitation and deep, guttural belches that reassure the rest of the troop that all is well.
Videos courtesy of ARKive.org