Gorillas are fascinating creatures that captivate the imagination of people from all over the world. These majestic primates belong to the genus Gorilla and are found in the tropical forests of central and western Africa. With their powerful bodies, expressive faces, and complex social structures, gorillas are often considered the closest relatives of humans. However, there’s a lot more to these great apes than just their uncanny resemblance to us. Here are some fun facts that you might not know about gorillas.
They only live in equatorial Africa.
Courtesy of Julia Filirovska
These giant apes are only found in one region – equatorial Africa. The two species of gorillas in Africa, the Eastern, and the Western gorillas, are geographically and topographically separated by the Congo river. Both species have 2 subspecies each – the Western lowland gorilla and the Cross River gorilla from the West; and the Mountain gorilla and the Eastern lowland gorilla from the East.
They live in groups.
Courtesy of Rwanda Safaris
Gorillas are very social creatures. They live in groups called troops which are often composed of anywhere from 10 to 50 individuals. Each troop usually has a single dominant male (often a silverback), several females, and their offspring. The dominant male has exclusive rights to mate with the females, and he decides when the troop eats, moves, or rests. He also protects the troop from danger, often seen pounding their chests as a sign of challenge or warning to anyone or anything he perceives as a threat. (Remember Tarzan?) Sadly though, when the offspring (usually the males) come of age, they often leave their troops in search of a new one.
They are primarily vegetarians but they are still omnivores.
Courtesy of Klub Boks
Gorillas feed mostly on vegetation and are often seen munching on wild celery, bamboo, roots, fruits, and sometimes even bark, branches, and pulp. A male gorilla can consume as much as 10% of its body weight (roughly around 40 pounds) in veggies per day. Unlike their smaller cousins, the chimpanzees, gorillas don’t hunt or organize hunting parties to capture and eat other animals. However, in the course of foraging for food, they do end up occasionally swallowing insects, some worms, and other small critters.
They don’t necessarily stay beside bodies of water because they don’t drink water often. This is because they get enough moisture from the vegetation that they consume as well as from the dew that usually forms on the plant materials they eat. Rainwater is also another source of water for these great apes.
They are diurnal creatures.
Courtesy of Sleepopolis
These large apes are active during the day. They do their foraging, moving around, grooming, and most other interactions when the sun is out. Feeding time is usually in the morning and the evening but they will occasionally snack on leaves in between. Gorillas (or at least some of them) also take naps during midday. However, during the night, the whole troop sleeps, making their beds (nests) from leaves and twigs.
They can grow really large.
Courtesy of Klub Boks
When they’re born, baby gorillas are surprisingly smaller than human babies, about 4 lbs on average as opposed to human babies who are around 5 – 8 lbs. This is probably because the average gestation period for them is 8.5 months (half a month shorter than ours). However, gorillas grow faster and reach adulthood by 12 years of age. By the time they reach this age, males would be weighing as much as 300 – 485 lbs, while females would be around 200-250 lbs. A Silverback gorilla (a male at least 12 years of age with white hair on his back), stands as tall as 5 and a half feet, even on all fours.
They are very clever.
Courtesy of Earth.com
Gorillas are intelligent creatures. This is evident not only in the social hierarchy that they maintain in their groups, but also in the way they communicate with other gorillas, and more especially, in the way they interact with their surroundings. As recorded by researchers, they have 16 different types of calls for many different purposes – vocalizations, roars, and hoots for food, danger, summons, and a whole lot more. Males strut and beat their chests to intimidate other male gorillas. Gorillas have also been documented using a variety of stuff around them (like twigs) and turning them into tools for prying anthills or termite mounds, or for cracking open a fruit or a nut. They can also identify their reflections in the mirror.
One particular Western Lowland gorilla nicknamed “Koko” learned over 1000 signs in her lifetime and was able to understand more than 2000 English words. She would use sign language to communicate with people around her and she made beautiful paintings too. Watch her communicate using sign language here.
They are in danger.
Courtesy of Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund
Gorilla populations have declined significantly in the last few decades, mainly because of deforestation, viral infections, poaching, and illegal trade. The most vulnerable of them, the Mountain gorillas, are believed to be numbering less than a thousand in the wild. Without drastic change, these magnificent apes are most likely to become extinct within our lifetime or the next few decades. If you want to know more about how you can help save these magnificent creatures, you can inquire here.
Frequently Asked Questions on Gorillas
Are gorillas dangerous?
Yes, they can be. They are, after all, wild creatures. However, when unprovoked, gorillas are naturally peaceful. They prefer to stick to their kind and leave other creatures (including humans) alone. Despite all the misleading information spread by movies and films about these gentle giants, people are already starting to understand them better thanks to the work of dedicated researchers like the famous primatologist Dr. Dian Fossey.
How long do gorillas live?
On average, these great apes live around 40 years of age in the wild. However, in captivity, they can live longer with the help of close supervision, regular food and shelter, and medical aid. The oldest gorilla, named Fatou, just had her 65th birthday last year at the Berlin zoo.
What types of gorillas are found in zoos?
Most gorillas in captivity are lowland gorillas. Several attempts have been done to capture other gorillas and start conservation programs for them in captivity, however, all these attempts have failed. Captive gorillas, from the other subspecies, die quickly from getting stressed and failing to acclimatize to their new environment. Currently, to push conservation efforts further, protected areas are being set up to keep them safer in the wild in hopes that the gorilla populations will bounce back on their own.