Gorillas are the largest, most powerful of the great apes, a primate group that also includes chimpanzees, bonobos, and orangutans. They share about 98 percent of their DNA with humans. For the most part, they live quiet, peaceful, and non-aggressive lives. Families are led by a dominant male called a “silverback,” referring to the silver hair on his back, and include several females, infants, younger males, and juveniles. The silverback’s job is to protect his family, so when gorilla troops meet, rival males can display aggression. Males may beat their chests, charge at one another, scream, bark, or wave sticks. They are capable of attacking and they are very strong. New studies have revealed that gorilla troops with overlapping territories sometimes meet up peacefully. It is thought these gorillas may be related or know each other from past encounters.
Females typically give birth to one infant after a gestation period of eight to nine months. At around three to four months of age, the infant rides on the mother’s back and will do so until weaned (around four to five years of age); at six to seven months, the youngster walks and climbs independently. Mature females leave their natal groups for other troops or single silverbacks. Juvenile males may live alone or in bachelor groups until they meet females and form their own troops. An adult male gorilla aged 10–12 years, begins to develop silver hair on his back, signaling his maturity.
During the day, gorillas forage for food. They “knuckle-walk” using their front knuckles and back feet. They spread out but keep in touch using a quiet call known as belch vocalization. Although they can climb trees, they spend most of their time on the ground. Each night, they sleep in new nests built on the ground (larger males) or in trees (juveniles and lighter females). Wild gorillas have been observed using rocks and sticks as rudimentary tools. In Africa, gorilla habitats are being destroyed by the mining of minerals that are used in the manufacture of handheld electronic devices. When you recycle your devices at the Zoo through our partner ECO-CELL, you are helping to reduce the demand for these minerals, as well as keeping toxins out of the environment.
These gorillas are found in the lowlands and swamp forests of Cameroon, Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gabon, and Angola.
Gorillas are primarily herbivorous, eating leaves, bark, vines, and stalks, as well as fruit. They may occasionally ingest insects along with the vegetation that makes up most of their diet.
Western lowland gorillas are four to six feet tall and weigh from 155 to 420 pounds. Males may be twice as large as females. Lifespan is 35 to 50 years.