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 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