Gorillas are the largest primate and one of the four types of great apes.
The other great apes are chimpanzees, orangutans, and bonobos. Gorillas are divided into two species: western and eastern. A subspecies of eastern gorillas is the mountain gorilla. It was the subject of a famous study by zoologist Dian Fossey.
Gorillas live in the tropical rain forests of central and west Africa. Western gorillas are found in Nigeria, Cameroon, the Republic of Congo, Gabon, the Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea, and Angola. Eastern gorillas are found only in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda.
Characteristics of Gorillas
Gorillas have long powerful arms and short legs. Their hair is usually black or gray. Adult males grow a mantle of silver hair on their backs. They are called silverbacks. Males also have a large bony crest on top of their skulls.
Adult male gorillas weigh between 350 and 450 pounds (158 and 203 kilograms). Female gorillas are considerably smaller. They weigh between 150 and 200 pounds (68 and 90 kilograms).
Overall, eastern and western gorillas look very similar. But there are subtle differences in their body and crest size and hair color and length.
Lives of Gorillas
Gorillas live in close-knit family groups. All members forage for food together and sleep together. Western gorillas live in small groups, usually containing a single adult male, several adult females, and their offspring. Some groups of eastern gorillas can have more than 60 members, including several adult males.
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Female gorillas give birth to one baby every four or five years. Although males do not help care for the offspring, they do protect them from danger. In general, both male and female gorillas leave the group they were born in after they reach maturity. Females mature at about age 10, and males at about age 15.
Gorillas eat a variety of leaves, fruit, herbs, bark, and flowers. They spend more time on the ground than in the trees. Unlike most other primates, gorillas rarely groom each other.
Gorillas can live up to forty years in the wild. They can live up to fifty years in captivity.
Gorillas and Their Environment
Both species of gorillas are endangered, in many cases by human activities. The two largest threats to western gorillas are poaching (illegal hunting) and disease. Eastern gorillas face the same threats, as well as habitat loss and war and civil unrest.