Mountain Gorilla
Gorilla beringei beringei

What Are They Like?

The endangered mountain gorilla is one of humankind’s closest cousins, sharing 97% of their DNA with humans. Individual gorillas have personality traits and quirks and a formidable intelligence that sometimes make these apes seem almost human. They can walk upright for extended periods of time and have arms that reach nearly to the ground. Standing upright, males are about 5.5 feet (1.7 meters) tall and usually weigh between 300-450 pounds (136-204 kilograms).  Females are about 5 feet (1.5 meters) tall, with an average weight of 200 pounds (90.7 kilograms). Unlike monkeys, gorillas have no tails. Mountain gorillas have long, thick black fur that helps them stay warm and dry in the cold, wet environment of their mountain homes. Adult males are called “silverbacks” because as they get older a strip of silver hair develops on their back.

Where Do They Live?

The mountain gorilla lives in the misty and cold “cloud forests” of Central Africa. One group lives in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest of Uganda, and another group can be found in the Virunga Mountains that span the borders of Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo and form the mountainous “backbone” of Central Africa. Most mountain gorillas are found on the slopes of three dormant volcanoes (Karisimbi, Mikeno, and Visoke) that range in altitude from 7,200–14,100 feet (2,194.5-4,297.7 meters).

 
Did You Know?
A female mountain gorilla may produce just two to six offspring over her 40-year lifespan. Males, which often breed with harems of three to four different females, increase their reproductive output by fathering 10–20 offspring over 50 years.

How Are Babies Made?

The mountain gorilla has no particular mating season, and females usually initiate mating behavior. Females give birth after an eight-and-a-half-month pregnancy, and generally bear just one infant every six to eight years. When they are born, baby gorillas weigh just 3-4 pounds (1.36-1.8 kilograms). Like human babies, they learn first to crawl (at about three months of age), and then to walk, usually at about eight or nine months. Their mothers nurse them for three years.

What Do They Eat?

Mountain gorillas eat a vegetarian diet of leaves, shoots and plant stems. They will also eat small animals and rotten wood. Adult male gorillas eat about 45 pounds (20 kilograms)  of food per day, and females eat about 30 pounds (30 kilograms).

 
Did You Know?
Of all primates, a gorilla’s feet bear the most resemblance to those of humans.

What Do They Do?

Mountain gorillas live in stable family groups and, though they are capable of aggression, are generally shy and peaceful creatures. Family groups are led by the largest male silverback, who is the undisputed leader of the group  that also includes females, babies and young males known as blackbacks. The silverback leader is responsible for protecting the family, and deciding where and when they eat and sleep. Gorillas spend their mornings and evenings feeding, usually covering only a small area of forest at a time. Groups spend the middle of the day sleeping, playing or grooming (females groom their young or a silverback). At night, gorillas fashion nests of leaves and branches on which to sleep; unweaned infants sleep in their mother’s nests.

How Concerned Should We Be?

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists the Mountain Gorilla as “critically endangered,” meaning the species could become extinct in the wild if habitat loss, poaching, the illegal pet trade and other causes of decline are not addressed. Despite being humankind’s closest relative in the animal world, it is humans that are driving these highly intelligent creatures to extinction. Today there are only 700 mountain gorillas left in the wild. Those that remain are in great danger from slaughter—either as “bushmeat” (illegally killed wild animals sold for food or used for subsistence), or to fuel the illegal trade in gorilla heads, hands and feet. Ashtrays made of gorilla hands provide a gruesome reminder of the horror and waste of the illegal animal trade and the danger facing these great apes.

What's Being Done?

There are a few rays of hope for the endangered mountain gorilla. One is the commitment of conservationists. Inspired by the example of the late Diane Fossey, who was murdered protecting the creatures she studied and loved, has inspired a new generation of conservationists who work with organizations such as the Great Ape Trust, African Wildlife Foundation, and World Wildlife Fund to protect gorillas and their habitat. Another positive development is the growth of eco-tourism, which now brings some 10,000 visitors each year to Congo, Rwanda and Uganda to see the gorillas. Gorilla tourism brings significant cash to these desperately poor countries, encouraging them to protect, rather than exploit, these rare animals. Viewing gorillas as an important revenue source has allowed these nations to strengthen gorilla conservation programs and step up law enforcement against criminals who slaughter and trade in gorillas.

 

Ways to Save Mountain Gorillas

Mountain Gorillas up close in a Rwandan Reborn

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